Analysis: The Vancouver Canucks remain in COVID-19 lockdown, but it’s almost certain they’ll come back to action in some way, shape or form

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As COVID-19 cases spread among the Vancouver Canucks’ players and staff, the National Hockey League team remains committed to finishing its season.

Nearly every Canuck to date has tested positive for coronavirus, and the club has told reporters it believes its players are dealing with the variant first identified in Brazil (P.1).

“This isn’t the first time we have navigated a team shutdown (we have had upwards of 10 already this season) and while not perfect, we have always successfully rescheduled the missed games and moved on. We certainly hope we will be able to achieve the same result here,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email on Wednesday.

“Obviously, the return to full health of the Canucks’ players and staff is our most important priority here. But assuming that can occur on the same basis we have experienced this season, we have a plan for the Canucks to resume and complete their season. And that plan does not entail or envision a seriously reduced or diminished roster.”

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Whenever it is the Canucks return to play — April 17 seems a decent bet, if most players have recovered by then — it seems clear the Canucks are going to be busy.

And while the league isn’t saying it, you know it all comes down to one thing: Money.

The Canucks have 19 games to play. That’s a lot of money due from sponsors and broadcasters. The NHL’s deal with Rogers for its Canadian rights is worth $5.2 billion over 12 years, and runs through 2025-26 season.

Even in a season where ownership has drastically reduced expenditures — real wages paid to players in the bottom third of the league, off-ice staff reduced from 200 or so down to between 30 and 40 — losing out on any revenue would be hard to bear for ownership.

This season has been about mitigation of loss. When the season ground to a premature halt a year ago, a good chunk of expected revenues, from ticket and beer sales to sponsorship dollars, were lost.

And not being able to sell tickets to playoff games stung badly.

There’s plenty of reason to think this was a season ownership really wanted to skip — 28 more home games with no one in the stands? That would be a hard pill to swallow for any owner.

But playing games at this point, with the Canucks now eight points back of the Montreal Canadiens — who still have two games in hand — will feel pretty empty from a playing perspective.

It was going to be hard enough already on the Canucks to play so many games with no meaningful outcome to them, but what happens if some players decide they don’t want to risk further play, or can’t make a return to the ice before the end of the season?

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The Canucks could conceivably recall some players from the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets to fill in the gaps.

As for the schedule, if the NHL wants the North Division to complete it’s schedule it will mean blowing past May 11, which is the planned start of the playoffs.

There’s just not enough time on the calendar to squeeze all those games in.

The NHL Players’ Association will be looking at player health and welfare in how the NHL looks to set up the new schedule.

“The most important consideration remains the health and safety of the Canucks players, staff and their families. We remain in regular contact with the medical groups for the NHL and the Canucks and we have reasonable confidence that the players will be able to resume on-ice activities at the appropriate time,” NHLPA spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon told Postmedia.

Will fans really tune in to watch the fading embers of the Canucks’ season while the Stanley Cup playoffs hit the turbo button?


Tanner Pearson celebrates after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames during NHL action at Rogers Arena on February 8, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada.
Tanner Pearson celebrates after scoring a goal against the Calgary Flames during NHL action at Rogers Arena on February 8, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. Photo by Rich Lam /Getty Images

Pearson talks continue

The noise about a possible contract extension for Tanner Pearson may not make a whole lot of sense given his age and the cap challenges the Canucks will face in coming years, but even so there’s definitely interest on the side of the team.

And one of the reasons may be related to the locker-room damage that the losses of Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom caused to morale. Pearson is well-liked in the dressing room and looking to keep him around speaks to this.

It also makes you wonder what this all means for Jim Benning’s future. If you’re letting the general manager go, do you really let him sign role players before the season is over?

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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