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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 17, 2020
Let’s be clear here: It may have been unstated, but making the playoffs was the Vancouver Canucks’ main objective to start the 2019-20 NHL season. That was made obvious from the moment general manager Jim Benning traded for J.T. Miller.
Benning’s deal for Miller, with a first-round pick a key piece going the other way to the Tampa Bay Lightning, was a move designed to make the playoffs.
For the deal to make sense, that first-round pick needed to be a mid-round selection, more ideally a pick that ended up in the 20s.
Mission accomplished, then. The Canucks are in the playoffs and now have a chance, if they can win their first-round, best-of-seven series against the St. Louis Blues or Dallas Stars, to push that pick further toward the bottom of the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, an online affair that’s scheduled for Oct. 9.
Benning’s voice was notably delighted when reached by phone Saturday morning. It’s been a long run for the veteran hockey man in Vancouver, and most of it hasn’t gone according to plan. But in the celebration of Chris Tanev’s overtime goal Friday night, which sealed the Canucks’ qualifying-round series against the Minnesota Wild , the pure joy of the moment was plain.
The players took Saturday off to rest and recuperate. They’ll be back on the ice for practice Sunday, but they won’t know until Sunday afternoon which team they’ll play next; it will be the loser of Sunday’s final Western Conference round-robin game between the Stars and Blues.
That series will begin Tuesday or Wednesday. The schedule remains tentative because of TV demands. Once the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets play Game 5 of their series on Sunday, the Final 16 playoff picture will be clear.
Benning has been able to watch just about every game played by Western Conference teams at Rogers Place in Edmonton over the past week, one of the best pro-scouting opportunities ever presented to NHL general managers. By all reports, most — but certainly not all — of the league’s GMs have taken advantage of the opportunity.
“It really gives us a chance to watch and become familiar with the whole conference,” he said Saturday morning. “It’s like a bantam tournament on steroids.”
Jordie Benn nears daylight
If all goes to plan, defenceman Jordie Benn will be able to get back on the ice Sunday, Benning said.
Benn self-isolated in Vancouver in late June, then skated in the first few days of the Canucks’ return-to-play training camp before he returned to Dallas in mid-July to be with his fiancée Jessi Kohout, who was due to give birth. Their daughter, Billie, arrived just over a week ago. After a weekend getting used to their new addition, Benn flew to Edmonton on Tuesday to rejoin his team.
Under the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols, approved by Canadian and Albertan public health officials, players like Benn don’t have to follow the 14-day quarantine rules that most people arriving in Canada from abroad have to endure, but they still have to spend time in isolation.
The key item in this variance is the NHL’s ability to test players daily for the COVID-19 infection. After his arrival, Benn had to spend at least four full days in isolation in his hotel room. Each day he’s been tested for COVID-19. He had to test negative four times over four days to move to the next stage, being allowed to skate on his own, still in isolation from the rest of the team.
Sunday, Benning said, would be the first day of the next stage. If he’s approved to progress to this solo-skating stage, he’ll still be tested daily. If he goes three days with three negative results, he can then rejoin the rest of his teammates.
That timeline means it’s unlikely he’ll be available for Game 1 of the Canucks’ first-round series. If the series opens Tuesday, he won’t have cleared anyway. If the series opens Wednesday, he won’t have skated with his teammates in nearly a month.
Oscar Fantenberg, who supplanted Benn as the team’s sixth defenceman in December, played the first three games of the series against Minnesota, but was scratched in favour of Olli Juolevi for Friday’s Game 4 victory. It was the NHL debut for the young Finn, who showed well enough in limited minutes.
The Toffoli question
The NHL’s unfit-to-play designation is airtight in its limitations against reporting on injuries.
So whatever issue forward Tyler Toffoli is dealing with — we believe it’s something to do with his foot or ankle — nothing will be revealed in official terms.
That said, it’s a telling thing the veteran winger remains with the Canucks. He was injured last Sunday. By the time the next round starts, it will have been 10 days or so that he’s been on the sidelines.
If he’s only out for a couple weeks, that would put him back on a path to return as soon as next weekend. If he wasn’t ready to play soon, it seems likely he’d not be sticking around the bubble.
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