It was only a matter of time. When the NHL announced Monday that all Calgary Flames‘ games would be postponed through Dec. 16, I had a sinking feeling that wouldn’t be the end of the story. In fact, it was just the beginning of a COVID-19 outbreak that has run rampant through Calgary’s locker room and the entire Flames organization.
Positive tests have completely overwhelmed the team, with 27 cases reported in the last 120 hours. On Wednesday afternoon, the league had no choice but to postpone another game and shut the club down until at least Dec. 21. As an added precaution, the Flames’ training facilities will also remain closed for until further notice.
The situation went from bad to worse Wednesday morning when the Flames announced that an additional seven players (plus three coaches and additional support staff) entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol. That brought the grand total to sixteen players unavailable to suit up, and that made it nearly impossible for Calgary to ice a team for Saturday’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets. With the latest postponement, the NHL will now have to reschedule four Flames games.
The latest round of test results revealed the team’s leading scorer, starting goaltender and head coach have all entered the fray in the NHL’s largest current coronavirus outbreak. If all of the affected players remain asymptomatic (and that’s the best case scenario) they’ll have to remain in COVID-19 protocol for 10 days. Here’s a breakdown of the Flames players and staff who will have to sit out for the next little while.
- Goaltender Jacob Markstrom
- Defensemen Rasmus Andersson, Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, Erik Gudbranson and Noah Hanifin
- Forwards Johnny Gaudreau, Brad Richardson, Milan Lucic, Tyler Pitlick, Trevor Lewis, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm, Byron Froese, Adam Ruzicka and Andrew Mangiapane
- Head coach Darryl Sutter, associate coach Kirk Muller, assistant coach Ryan Huska
- Eight members of the club’s support staff
The NHL Will Reassess the Situation Next Week
I was actually surprised that the league only postponed Satuday’s game against Columbus, as there was a lot of speculation the Flames would be shut down until after Christmas. In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the NHL said “The decision was made following consultation by the NHL’s, the NHLPA’s and the Club’s medical groups.” However, it seems everyone is expecting more positive cases to be announced in the coming days, so the league also stated it is in the process of reviewing and revising Calgary’s regular season schedule, and will provide a further update next week.
This also begs the question – which roster players are actually available to suit up when the boys in red are ultimately allowed back on the ice? Here’s the (short) list of Flames who are still in the clear: goaltender Dan Vladar, defensemen Michael Stone and Oliver Kylington, forwards Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, Blake Coleman and Dillon Dube (and injured forward Brett Ritchie). That’s a pretty small group, and not nearly enough personnel to ice a legitimate squad, so that begs another question – how many reinforcements are allowed from the American Hockey League (AHL) Stockton Heat?
Covid Protocols Make Calling up Players From the AHL More Complicated
I originally thought the Flames could simply call up a boatload of players from the Stockton Heat and fill out their coronavirus-depleted roster as required. I was very wrong about that. It turns out, players on the COVID-19 protocol actually count against the salary cap, but they don’t use up a roster spot. However, players on the COVID-19 protocol can’t be sent down to Stockton until they are cleared to play. Confused? Wait, it gets better. It seems Calgary would have no additional salary cap room to fill those vacant roster spots, but there is a mechanism in place to add more players if they are shorthanded.
If a team has 18 or more skaters and two goalies available and have less than $800K available in salary cap, they need to play one game with the players that they have available. After that, the Flames would be able to call up players from Stockton with a cap hit of $850K or less to sub in for the players in COVID-19 protocol. These moves would not count against the cap, but once the players in COVID protocol are cleared to play, the replacement players must be sent back to the minors.
Expect More Games to be Canceled Next Week
The first batch of players currently in COVID-19 protocol (Lindholm, Mangiapane, Richardson, Ruzicka, Tanev and Zadorov) are only eligible to return on Dec. 22, making the current return to play date of Dec. 21 highly unlikely. The Flames would still have 16 players unavailable for that game against the Anaheim Ducks and if I understand the league’s rules correctly, Calgary would probably have to play that game with a very small cap compliant roster – like 10 to 12 guys max.
I don’t think the NHL would ever let that happen, so my guess is we will see the Flames shut down until after Christmas, making their return to the ice on Dec. 27 against the Edmonton Oilers. Calgary general manager Brad Treliving commented on the team’s dire situation in a zoom availability on Tuesday and stated that his squad has to be ready for anything, but assured everyone that the organization would find a way through the ordeal and come out the other side.
“The number one priority for everybody is the health and safety of our players, their families, those close to them, everybody impacted” Treliving said. “We have a great medical team. Our people know, whatever they need, we will get provided for them. Let’s not lose sight that everything else is a distant second to that.”
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So far, everyone who has tested positive on the Flames roster has been “doing well”, so if there’s one bit of positive news to come out of all of this, that would definitely be it. However, there’s no way this complicated saga is ending any time soon, so stay tuned and buckle up. The Flames are in for a very bumpy ride.
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Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.