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Wild searching for clarity as virus pauses team's season

As of Monday morning, nine Wild players are on League's COVID protocol list

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

The Wild was hoping it had halted a COVID-19 outbreak on its team before it had started. 

Eight days ago, forward Marcus Foligno was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list, which prevented him from playing that night's game against the Colorado Avalanche at Xcel Energy Center.

Following a 4-3 overtime win that night, the team packed up and flew to Denver for scheduled rematches Tuesday and Thursday at Ball Arena.

The teams got the first of those games in, but not the second, as a rash of cases turned up positive on the Wild roster. After an initial burst of five names on the COVID list, several others have trickled in and more could be on the way, according to Wild General Manager Bill Guerin, who addressed the media on Monday morning. 

"I spoke to the league a couple days ago, and there's a plan moving forward. But since then we've had more cases, more positive cases," Guerin said. "We have a call with the league today at 4:30 p.m. with the league medical staff. So we'll reassess where we are. I don't want to speculate if we'll be back Thursday or not. We'll just have to wait and see what happens on that call today."

The NHL initially cancelled four of Minnesota's games, starting with last Thursday's game against the Avs, a weekend back-to-back against the Arizona Coyotes and Tuesday night's game with the St. Louis Blues. 

As of now, the game Thursday against St. Louis is scheduled to proceed, but that game could be up in the air as well, as Guerin said that he expects more COVID positive cases on the team in the next couple of days. If that indeed does happen, the start of the Wild's upcoming road trip to California, slated to begin Saturday night in Los Angeles, could also be in jeopardy. 

[UPDATE, 3 p.m. on 2/8: The NHL has indeed announced that the Wild's next two games, including Thursday against St. Louis and Saturday in Los Angeles, have been postponed)

"I mean it's frustrating, but it's just something we have to roll with," Guerin said. "It stinks, it stinks there's no other way to put it, but other teams have done it."

Guerin mentioned the Vegas Golden Knights as an example of a team in the Wild's temporary division that has gone through a similar stoppage over the season's first month.

The Golden Knights' outbreak actually began on their coaching staff, which forced Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon to serve as coach for one game, assisted by the staff of the team's AHL affiliate based in nearby Henderson, Nevada. 

Two days later, Vegas' game against the Blues was postponed, as was their next two games against the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 1 and 3. 

Vegas went 10 days between games, getting back on the ice last Friday night against the Kings. 

One main difference between the two situations, however, is that Vegas' began with the team at home, and it halted it's operation before departing the city. That made it easier to nip its outbreak in the bud before it blossomed into something larger. 

More than a dozen players landed on the COVID protocol list for the New Jersey Devils, an outbreak that has kept that team sidelined since Jan. 31. The NHL has rescheduled 11 of their games, which has altered the club's original schedule dramatically.

The Devils are scheduled to resume play on Thursday, but will play 47 games over the course of just 86 days ... assuming COVID doesn't upend their schedule any further.

(UPDATE: Indeed, COVID has forced the postponement of two more Devils games this week, on Thursday and Saturday against the Washington Capitals)

How and when the Wild's COVID shutdown ends is still up in the air. The NHL indicated the team could open its facilities as early as Wednesday, but that was as of a couple of days ago, and the team has had additional positive test results since then.

If Guerin learns that the League has pushed that date back, it would prevent the Wild from being able to practice, which would almost certainly lead to a cancelation of Thursday's game. 

(UPDATE: This has most certainly been pushed back because of Monday afternoon's postponements) 

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Schedule Update: Additional @BuffaloSabres, @NJDevils and @mnwild games postponed.

Minnesota is scheduled to have a couple of off days in Los Angeles after its Saturday game, but the Kings home rink is also used by two NBA teams, which makes simply pushing Saturday night's scheduled game back a day or two a non-starter. The Los Angeles Clippers have home games at Staples Center on both Sunday and Monday. 

"We just have to be patient, not let it get to us and do what we have to do to get to the other side and we'll be OK," Guerin said. "We just have to be patient and ride it out. I think the most important thing is that people get to the other side of this healthy and we'll resume playing hockey when it's safe to do so."

In terms of the overall health of the players currently on the COVID-19 list, which as of Monday morning, includes Foligno, and fellow forwards Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Johansson and Nico Sturm, as well as defensemen Ian Cole, Jared Spurgeon and Brad Hunt, Guerin said most are experiencing only mild symptoms.  

"Nothing too crazy. Just some achiness or loss of taste or sense of smell and things like that," Guerin said. "The most important thing is everybody gets out on the other side OK and we'll see and we'll take it day by day."

Guerin is hopeful a call with the League on Monday afternoon yields some additional clarity, but until any new cases stop trickling in, it's going to be tough to set an exact timetable for a return to play. 

The hope is that some of the names that were on the COVID list early, will begin to come off that list in the coming days, with others following behind. 

"[The NHL will] give us the guidelines, they'll kind of hold our hand through it ... As it goes for the schedule, we're all kind of at the mercy of this thing and so whatever they come back to us with, we accept," Guerin said. "This is no time to be complaining about, 'Well we have three [games] in five nights there or four in seven nights there.' This is not the time for that. 

"This will be the time to be appreciative that we're able to get back to play and just dealing with it. The schedule's tough as it is so if we can get back and cram a few more games in, then that's the way we'll do it."

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