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Lightning Round: Making the Canucks play the rest of the season is cruel

Nineteen games in thirty-one days for a team that is all but eliminated from the playoffs is sheer lunacy.

Winnipeg Jets v Vancouver Canucks

Back in December the NHL and the NHLPA released their COVID-19 protocols that would govern the league during the 2020-21 NHL season. One of the reasons they provided such a structured and detailed process was because, in their own words, “The health of all individuals involved in the NHL’s 2020/21 Season remains the Leagues’ top priority.” So, can someone please explain to me how making a team that is ten points out of a playoff spot and had as many as 21 players and staff members on the protocol list play 19 games in 31 days in the best interest of the players’ health?

Many of the players have skated just once since March 24th and are expected to play at an elite level on Friday. There are still seven players on the list with nine having come off just a few days ago. Not all of the players that were on the list were symptomatic, but even the ones that weren’t had to isolate and weren’t allowed to skate or work out at the team facilities. For those that did have the virus, one that attacks the respiratory system, it’s insane to think they will be back to game shape after a couple of practices.

Current Canuck (and former Bolt) J.T. Miller spoke to reporters on Wednesday about the situation and expressed a tremendous amount of hesitation about the schedule moving forward.

“What we’re being asked to do is not going to be too safe, if you’re asking me...It’s kind of frustrating, if I’m being honest with you. We try to talk about the No. 1 priority being the players health and their families’ safety, and it’s almost impossible to do what they’ve asked us to do here on our return.”

It makes you wonder what the NHLPA has been doing for the last couple of weeks. After all, this is an organization that , on their website, states one of their purposes is:

Improving working conditions and creating player safety initiatives

Allowing the league to schedule five back-to-back games in a month and at least two stretches of five games in seven nights doesn’t sound very safe even for teams that haven’t seen their roster shredded by a virus. If a player was out of the line-up for three weeks with a sprained ankle, it would be crazy to expect them to be ready with two practices, right? So why does the NHLPA think it’s safe for multiple players to take weeks off and jump back into action right away?

To make them play out the rest of the schedule while they are still worrying about the effects on themselves and their families, and to do it in such a compressed manner is simply cruel. The players are going to be exhausted by the time they run through this gauntlet of games and tired players are more likely to get injured. There is a greater than zero concern of a Canucks player suffering a long-term injury during this run of play.

The Vancouver players reportedly had a Zoom session with the NHLPA on Wednesday, but why should it take a call from the team for the organization to take any action? According to the return to play agreement, the Commissioner has the final say in determining when play should resume, but the NHLPA can file a grievance to an impartial arbitrator. Or, the Canucks could simply forfeit any game they refuse to play.

The number one question I have is, why are they even playing these games? Vancouver currently has 35 points and is 6th in the North Division. Montreal is in the fourth spot and has 45 points. While the Canucks do have three games in hand on the Canadiens, making up that big of a gap (and leapfrogging Calgary) isn’t going to happen.

So why the insistence on making Vancouver finish out the entire 56-game schedule? Four of their games are against the Ottawa Senators. The first thing I would do if I was the league was just take those games off of the schedule. Go to points percentage to determine draft order and move on. The final two games Vancouver is scheduled to play are against Calgary. If those games don’t mean anything, cancel those as well.

Sure it will cost you some TV revenue and ad sponsorship money, but at this point that’s like dumping a bottle of water on top of your already flooded basement. It doesn’t help, but you’re already screwed so why worry about it? It’ll show that maybe, just maybe, the league cares a little more about their players than the almighty dollar (although based on their history with concussions and head shots....).

The Dallas Stars went through a similar stretch where they played 17 games in 29 days last month. They also had six back-to-back games in six weeks. Their record in the second game: 1-5. There just isn’t enough time for players to recover when the schedule is compressed like this. I suppose the league could allow the Canucks to expand their roster a bit for this stretch, maybe add a couple of folks to the taxi squad, but it’s unlikely that will happen.

This whole thing is a mess. One the league was hoping to avoid. I’m pretty sure they were expecting the bulk of the postponed games to happen early in the season when they had time to reschedule and as the numbers went down and vaccines rolled out, they’d be able to skate through to the playoffs without any trouble.

They’ve pushed the regular season schedule as far back as they can at this point. If they want to wrap up the playoffs before the Olympics start they really don’t have much leeway to delay the start of the postseason. So, should any more games be affected, it’s time they start cancelling them.

Lightning Links:

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It’s a busy week for Syracuse and they’ll have some new faces in the line-up at some point. Hardev takes a look at their upcoming schedule

Lightning looking to rebound

Coach Cooper isn’t overly concerned about the loss to Nashville. In fact, he’s hoping it might be a positive. A loss as bad as Tuesday’s could spark a sense of urgency from his players. Hopefully, they’ve turned the page and are moving on.

NHL News:

Sabres hire Jason Karmanos as Associate GM

Kevyn Adams should absolutely not be worried about his job whatsoever. I’m sure Karmanos is perfectly content to serve as the Associate GM...for now. Karmanos will be busy as he helps rebuilds the front office and scouting staff for Buffalo and the Rochester Americans. He’ll have a hand in player development and analytics as well.

Jack Eichel to miss the remainder of the season

While Buffalo’s recent spate of decent play has diminished their chances of securing the overall number one pick, they aren’t going to make a miracle run to the playoffs, either. So it makes sense to announce that their best player has been shut down for the rest of the season with a herniated disk in his back.

Ben Bishop and Alex Radulov shut down for the season

Old friend Ben Bishop has been rehabbing from knee surgery all season. The injury will officially keep him out for the rest of the season. Radulov did mange to appear in a few games this season but has been in and out of the line-up and will now require core surgery. He is expected to be ready for next season.

Phillipp Grubauer on NHL’s COVID list

The Avalanche announced they cancelled practice Wednesday morning after a member of their organization tested positive for the virus. Later in the day it was also announced that goaltender Grubauer had tested positive. That leaves Jonas Johansson and Devan Dubnyk as the starting netminders for Colorado at the moment.

Toronto Marlies shut down as a precaution

The AHL announced that the Marlies will be shut down for a week due to COVID protocols. That means three games, two against Laval and one against Belleville, will be pushed back to later in the season.