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

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The Dease Lake Airport is receiving $11-million in upgrades funded by the province, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine and mining companies. (British Columbia Aviation Council)
Major upgrades coming to Dease Lake Airport

Airport to receive $11-million from the province, regional district and mining companies

Dianna Plouffe, right, with Mayor Gladys Atrill in front of Town Hall following the announcement she will be the new CAO> (Facebook photo)
Director of corporate services named Smithers CAO

Dianna Plouffe replaces Alan Harris who is retiring at the end of April

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read