Flames Weekly: Covid Protocol, 6 Games Postponed, Possible Restart

Flames Weekly looks at how the Calgary Flames performed in the previous week. Be sure to check in every Monday for my take on the week that was and to find out which storylines and players took center stage. Feel free to use the comment section below to let me know how you thought the team performed or post any ideas or questions about the Flames.

Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames Weekly

I am in uncharted territory. In my second season contributing to Flames Weekly, I find myself in the highly unusual situation of having no games to talk about. Nada. Nil. Zero. Zilch. Every Flames contest slated for last week was postponed by the NHL. But fear not. I will not let you down. The league may have shuttered the doors of the Scotiabank Saddledome for the past seven days, but there’s still plenty of COVID-related news to catch up on.

Flames’ Covid Nightmare Began on Dec. 13

Last Monday, the NHL postponed three Flames games, including Monday at the Chicago Blackhawks, Tuesday at the Nashville Predators, and Thursday at the Saddledome against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Officials pulled the trigger after six players and one staff member entered the league’s COVID-19 protocol within a 24-hour period. 

The team has shut down all training facilities, began a daily testing protocol (instead of every three days), and every player, coach and staffer, was placed in isolation at home. While everyone was hoping for the best, most were expecting the worst, and the very next day, the Flames announced additional positive cases.

More Flames Cases Announced Dec. 14 and 15

Three more Flames players — Noah Hanifin, Milan Lucic (who was triple vaxxed) and Sean Monahan were added to the protocol list last Tuesday, pushing the total to nine players and one staff member. With so many skaters out of the lineup, we knew there had to be more postponements on the horizon. Remember, even if all of the affected players remain asymptomatic (and that’s the best-case scenario), they have to remain in COVID-19 protocol for 10 days. By Wednesday, it was apparent the organization had a serious outbreak on its hands, and the NHL reacted accordingly.

The situation went from bad to worse. The Flames announced that an additional seven players (plus three coaches and additional support staff) entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol for a staggering 27 cases reported in just 100 hours. With 16 players unavailable to suit up, it was impossible for Calgary to ice a team for Saturday’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets. With that postponement, the Flames had four games to be rescheduled.

Flames Confirm Cases of Omicron Variant on Dec. 16

With the alarmingly rapid spread of COVID-19 through the Flames locker room, it wasn’t surprising to learn that at least three of the cases were the Omicron variant. Also, two more players, Dillon Dube and Oliver Kylington were added to the protocol list, along with one staff member. At that point, 30 members of the organization were in protocol: 18 players, three coaches and nine staff members. With only a handful of players not infected, Calgary knew they could not ice a team before the Christmas break.

Related: Flames COVID Outbreak is More Complicated Than Missing Some Games

By Dec. 17, Mikael Backlund and one staffer were added to the ever-expanding protocol list, bumping the total to 32 cases – including 19 of 23 roster players, three coaches and 10 staff members. The NHL had no choice but to postpone two more home dates, including Monday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks and Thursday’s against the Seattle Kraken. This made the next scheduled game the much-anticipated Dec. 27 home game against the Edmonton Oilers. Flames general manager (GM) Brad Treliving and medical director Dr. Ian Auld addressed the media via a zoom availability to discuss a very eventful week in Cowtown.

Speaking to reporters, the Flames’ long-time team doctor suggested that additional testing could reveal that all of the cases within the organization are the Omicron variant. “I’ve been helping manage this problem for 18 months or so in a hockey-related environment, and we’ve had cases before and close contact before,” Dr. Auld said. “I’ve never seen transmission on this level, which is completely in keeping with what we’re seeing across the world. It doesn’t require a huge window to move from person to person.” Thirty-two players, coaches and staffers tested positive last week, so the only silver lining is that the majority of cases have either been asymptomatic or very mild.

The Beginning of the End? No New Flames Cases on Dec. 18, 19 or 20

Before the Flames could consider restarting their season, they needed to string together a few days of no new cases, and on Saturday, the process finally started. For the first time since Dec. 13, the organization had no additional positive tests to announce. It was the same on Sunday and then again this morning, which gave me a reason to be cautiously optimistic. Sure, there are only four roster players still unaffected by the outbreak, but at this point, we will take any positive news we can get.

If the outbreak is under control (and that’s a very big if), we can start to speculate who will be available to suit up on Dec. 27, assuming the game remains on the schedule. If the players all remain asymptomatic, here’s the earliest we can expect them to exit the protocol list and join the active roster:

  • Dec. 22: Lindholm, Mangiapane, Richardson, Ruzicka, Tanev and Zadorov (entered protocol on Dec. 13)
  • Dec. 23: Hanifin, Lucic and Monahan (entered protocol on Dec. 14)
  • Dec. 24: Andersson, Froese, Gaudreau, Gudbranson, Lewis, Markstrom and Pitlick (and the coaches) (entered protocol on Dec. 15)
  • Dec. 25: Dube and Kylington (entered protocol on Dec. 16)
  • Dec. 26: Backlund (entered protocol on Dec. 17)

If everything goes perfectly, the entire team would technically be ready to roll for the Battle of Alberta, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that a few of those players still in protocol won’t be medically cleared to suit up on Dec. 27. If Calgary remains eligible to restart their season a week from today against the Oilers, expect to see a short bench. How short? We should know a lot more by the end of this week.

The Week’s Winners and Losers

In last week’s edition of Flames Weekly, I declared it was the “weirdest week of the Flames’ 2021-22 season.” I stand corrected. The past seven days have been the weirdest, but even without any games played, there is a lot to unpack. So, let’s get right to it and decide who made the biggest impressions – positive or negative.

  • Treliving has been navigating the team’s COVID-19 outbreak with a steady hand, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see the lighter side of a rather dire situation. In his media availability on Thursday, the GM joked that the Flames’ shrunken roster could still ice a squad for a 3-on-3 game. “We have a pretty good 3-on-3 team, but they might have been tired when it’s all said and done,” said Treliving, who still has Matthew Tkachuk, Blake Coleman, Michael Stone and goalie Dan Vladar who haven’t entered COVID-19 protocol. “I joked with Darryl (Sutter), it was probably the only time players wouldn’t have bitched about ice time.” I wonder if Sutter laughed at that joke. My guess? No.
  • Mark Giordano was a guest on Hockey Night in Canada’s After Hours on Saturday, and the former Flames captain was asked about his first regular-season game at the Scotiabank Saddledome being postponed. The veteran D-man scored a goal against his former team in a preseason tilt in Cowtown and joked that he was looking forward to facing off against them again on Dec 23. “I was looking forward to getting back and seeing some old friends, but I already got back there and sniped on the guys,” he laughed. “Had a pretty good time in that one. I’m sure I’ll have an opportunity down the road… I thought it was going to feel a lot weirder going in there and playing in that game. But I felt pretty comfortable, pretty relaxed out there on the ice.” There’s no word yet on when the game against the Kraken will be rescheduled.
  • On Dec. 9, Jarome Iginla’s son Tij was selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the Western Hockey League bantam draft by the Seattle Thunderbirds. On Friday, the T-birds made it official and signed the 15-year-old to a standard player agreement (SPA). Tij Iginla has 14 points in 13 games with the RINK Hockey Academy this season, and while the future looks bright for the youngster, being the son of an NHL Hall of Famer means he has some pretty big shoes – or rather, skates – to fill.
  • Blake Coleman is one of only four Flames players not in COVID-19 protocol, so he’s taking full advantage of his time off. But don’t worry, he’s still hitting the ice – just not at the Scotiabank Saddledome. On Friday, the 30-year-old winger posted pictures of him and his wife playing some pond hockey on a frozen lake near their home. “When life gives you lemons” was the caption. Coleman’s social media post highlights one of the very few upsides to having your NHL team shut down for over a week: an extended Christmas vacation to spend quality time with family. 
  • I’ve talked at length about the Flames’ hot start to the 2021-22 campaign, but do you know who’s been even hotter? Calgary’s American Hockey League farm team – that’s who! The Stockton Heat are 18-2-2-1 and have been scorching this season, led by rookie sensation Jakob Pelletier and their outstanding netminder Dustin Wolf. Pelletier leads the team in goals and points, while Wolf has yet to lose a game in regulation, meaning the Heat have an 18-game point streak (16-0-2-0) when he starts. The team’s point streak now sits at eight games (7-0-1-0), while their home point streak is at a team-record 13 games (11-0-2-0). I don’t think the organization could ask for anything more from its minor league affiliate.

The Week Ahead

Monday’s previously scheduled game against the Ducks has been postponed, along with Thursday’s tilt against the Kraken. That leaves the Oilers on Monday, Dec. 27, as the next scheduled contest. Will the Flames play that game? Your guess is as good as mine, but if they do, Calgary will have to take on Edmonton without practice time. According to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the players who exit COVID-19 protocol this week can’t skate or practice during the Christmas break. If the boys in red play, it will likely be a very sloppy effort.

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