For most of the NHL season, the North Division – made up of only the seven Canadian teams in the league – avoided COVID-19-related issues far better than its American counterparts. But that situation changed dramatically over the past two weeks, and now the Vancouver Canucks have stopped playing indefinitely due to the league’s worst coronavirus outbreak yet.

Vancouver Canucks COVID-19
The Vancouver Canucks have stopped playing and practicing as the team deals with the worst NHL COVID-19 outbreak yet this season. (Image: Rich Lam/Getty)

As of Sunday, Vancouver had placed 16 of its 22 active players on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list, with TSN reporting that more than 20 players and coaches on the team had tested positive.

Brazilian variant ravaging Vancouver

ESPN reported Saturday night that some of the Canucks cases included the infectious P.1 variant, which health officials first identified in Brazil. That variant has become common in the Vancouver area.

The NHL has postponed 45 games this season due to COVID-19 issues. The first 37 postponements all occurred in the three United States-based divisions. However, the Montreal Canadiens missed four games in late March, and Vancouver has now missed four more so far.

“Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible,” the Canucks said in a statement on Sunday. “Our focus continues to be on the health of everyone involved and we are thankful for the extraordinary health care and guidance we have received from our team’s medical staff, BC’s health officials, and from NHL and NHLPA medical experts.”

ESPN reported that some Vancouver players are symptomatic, with sources saying a few are in “rough shape.” One player told ESPN that some teammates had received IV treatments for severe dehydration, though he was not aware of any players going to the hospital. Sources said that many family members of players have tested positive and are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

“Fatigue, dehydration, the symptoms are intense,” an unnamed agent for a Canucks player told ESPN. “It’s knocked a lot of guys out. Some can’t even get out of bed.”

NHL expects team to complete season

In a statement to The Canadian Press, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that while the Canucks outbreak is concerning “from a health and safety standpoint,” he also said that the league experts the Canucks to return to play and complete their 56-game schedule.

Currently, the Canucks have played 37 games, compiling a 16-18-3 record. They remain on the outside fringes of the playoff race: Vancouver currently sits fifth in the North Division, six points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the last postseason spot. However, the Canadiens have played three fewer games.

FanDuel Sportsbook now rates the Vancouver Canucks as a +1600 pick to make the playoffs, and a +10000 long shot to win the Stanley Cup this season.

The Canucks aren’t the only team dealing with some form of COVID-19 issues. On Sunday, Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness left the game after the second period due to the league’s protocols. Bowness is fully vaccinated, but exited out of an abundance of caution after a PRC test returned what Dallas general manager Jim Nill described as a “very low grade” positive result.

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