FILE - Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger looks on in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Denver. Krueger marked his return to practice Sunday, feb. 14, 2021 with an upbeat but cautionary message following a 10-day bout with what he called “moderately severe symptoms” of COVID-19. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

FILE - Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger looks on in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Denver. Krueger marked his return to practice Sunday, feb. 14, 2021 with an upbeat but cautionary message following a 10-day bout with what he called “moderately severe symptoms” of COVID-19. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

NHL adapts COVID-19 approach through 1st month of season

The decision to add rapid tests came after a player was pulled mid-game as a result of a positive test.

Sabres coach Ralph Krueger marked his return to practice Sunday with an upbeat but cautionary message following a 10-day bout with what he called “moderately severe symptoms” of COVID-19.

“Definitely a time to realize how lethal this COVID is,” the 61-year-old Krueger said, while expressing relief his wife hasn’t been infected. “I’m feeling quite well but, of course, scarred by the experience.”

The first month of the NHL’s pandemic-shortened season has been a bumpy one. The Sabres are among eight teams that paused their seasons, and 35 games have been postponed. From Jan. 13 through Saturday, 120 players from 26 of 31 teams have spent at least one day on the COVID-19 list. Some tested positive, others were identified as close contacts and a few had to quarantine after travelling from another country.

Buffalo is set to return from a 15-day break by hosting the New York Islanders on Monday. The Colorado Avalanche resumed play at Vegas on Sunday. Minnesota and New Jersey are scheduled to return Tuesday, while the Philadelphia Flyers, who currently have seven players on the NHL COVID-19 list, are on pause until at least Thursday.

The NHL completed last season’s playoffs in tightly secured bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. Without those, outbreaks were considered inevitable.

“This is the new normal, unfortunately,” Golden Knights forward Mark Stone said. “I think you’re a little bit naïve to think we were going to go through a whole season without one guy testing positive. I think now we’re learning as a group and as a league.”

The NBA had a three-week head start on the NHL, and after an initial rash of postponements and more than 20 positive cases, the NBA has had just 13 players test positive since the NHL began play.

What’s in question is how quickly the NHL addressed concerns before enhancing its safety protocols twice over the past two weeks, including the introduction of game-day rapid testing for players, staff and on-ice officials.

The tipping point coincided with the Sabres hosting New Jersey for a two-game series on Jan. 30 and 31, when the league allowed the second game to be played after two players were added to the Devils’ COVID-19 list following Buffalo’s 4-3 shootout win.

New Jersey, which peaked with a league-high 19 players on the list, had its season paused a day later. The Sabres then had as many as nine players sidelined at once, plus Krueger.

The NHL had 22 players on the COVID-19 list on Jan. 30, and that number ballooned to a season-high 59 on Friday. The number dropped to 45 on Saturday, its first decrease since Jan. 29.

Krueger questioned the NHL’s decision to proceed with the second game of the Sabres-Devils series by calling it “a rough weekend,” but he’s praised the league for how it has responded since.

“I’m happy the NHL has been as constructive as possible in learning from the experience that we had,” Krueger said. “So it seems to make it worthwhile.”

Sabres forward Taylor Hall believes the league has learned from what happened.

“This is everyone’s first time going through this, and there’s going to be mistakes that are not on purpose,” said Hall, who tested positive but was asymptomatic while spending 10 days in isolation before being cleared on Saturday. “We’re all trying our best here. And I don’t think anyone deserves more blame than anyone else.”

The decision to add rapid tests came after Vegas forward Tomas Nosek was allowed to play the first two periods against Anaheim on Tuesday, before being pulled as a result of a positive test.

Rapid tests return results within a half hour and augment the PCR daily tests which were already taking place. Though more accurate, PCR tests require a 12-24 hour turnaround.

“The more information we have, the quicker it is, the better off everybody is,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “The one thing I can take comfort in is I know the NHL is putting the players’ safety first. But this is a messy, messy thing we’re dealing with.”

The St. Louis Blues are the only U.S.-based team to not have a player land on the COVID-19 list, with the other four based in Canada: Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

And yet, the vagaries of the coronavirus don’t diminish fears of a Canadian team being affected.

“This thing is so uncontrollable, and you don’t really know where it’s coming from,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “I think a lot of it is just flat-out luck.”

McDavid spoke hours before the Oilers placed forward Jesse Puljujarvi on their COVID-19 list, before he was removed two days later.

In Buffalo, Krueger is taking a day-at-a-time approach in determining when he’ll return, with assistant Steve Smith set to take over on an interim basis.

Smith can appreciate how quickly situations can change based on the daily COVID-19 results that pop up in his inbox.

“Every morning, I have a pit in my stomach wondering whether it’s going to be my day,” Smith said. “The first thing I do is I look at my phone and see whether it’s positive or negative from the day before. I look for the green button, and when I’m green, I’m a happy guy.”

READ MORE: NHL’s road trips looking a lot different in 2021

___

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.

___

John Wawrow, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Black Press Media file photo)
Aggressive bus passenger arrested in Saanich for uttering threats

Suspect had outstanding warrant for assault at bus stop, two assaults on BC Transit buses

(Pixabay photo)
New program to provide recovery beds for at-risk Greater Victoria youth

It will aim to meet ‘health and social’ needs of wide range of youth

Pacific Coastal Airline flights 8P1543 on Feb. 22 and 8P1538 on Feb. 24 had cased of COVID-19 onboard, according to the BC Centre for Disease Control. (Pacific Coastal Airlines photo)
Two flights between Kelowna and Victoria report COVID-19 exposures

Pacific Coastal Airlines flights on Feb. 22 and Feb. 24 affected

Sgt. Sandrine Perry in the Oak Bay Police Department interview room that has been softened with household features to better accommodate survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. (Travis Paterson/News Staff)
Oak Bay police interview room gets a makeover

Room made less daunting for victims of trauma

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

The machines, called MySafe, are akin to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify its unique vein pattern. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Feds dole out $3.5-M for opioid ‘vending machines’ to dispense safer drugs in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria both have a MySafe machine to help reduce overdoses

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Nanaimo RCMP are looking for a suspect who smashed the window of an adult toy store and made off with more than $1,200 in merchandise. (File photo)
Vancouver Island sex shop out $1,200 in merchandise after suspect steals ‘colossal’ product

Suspect smashed window of Nanaimo store, cutting himself in the process

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)
B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)
Indigenous consent comes first and last for B.C. industrial projects

Environment minister can still approve permits without consent

Most Read