COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc On Jets’ Schedule

The Winnipeg Jets have had a number of games postponed recently. Here, we’ll break down all of the schedule changes and how they will impact the team going forward.

No Fans Allowed Leads to Layoff Extended

The NHL schedule has been changing at a dizzying pace and postponements have been piling up since more players have been testing positive for COVID-19 and the highly-transmissible Omicron variant becomes the dominant strain in North America.

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The Jets have not played since Dec. 19, when they defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-2 at home. Due to the postponements, they will not play again until Jan. 2, when they travel to Vegas to face the Golden Knights.

The Jets only have two players in COVID-19 protocol, but the most recent postponements are due restrictions on fans in the stands.

Winnipeg Jets Celebrate Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Brenden Dillon
The Jets have had a number of games postponed recently. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Amped-up Manitoba health orders currently dictate that the Jets can have a maximum of 250 fans at Canada Life Centre, even after much hope that admitting only fully-vaccinated fans would allow 100 per cent capacity to be maintained for the whole season.

The NHL is not willing to allow Canadian teams to host at less than 100 per cent capacity as they did last season. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks are limiting to 50 per cent, while the Montreal Canadiens aren’t allowing fans at all.

Breaking Down the Postponements

On Tuesday, the NHL announced more postponements, including three Jets’ games — on Dec. 31 in Calgary against the Flames and on Jan. 8 and Jan 10 against the Seattle Kraken and Minnesota Wild in Winnipeg, respectively.

The Jets already had four other games delayed. Prior to Christmas, games on Dec. 21 in Nashville due to multiple Predators in COVID-19 protocol and on Dec. 22 in Dallas against the Stars due to concerns with cross-border travel were put on ice.

After Christmas, the Dec. 27 against the Minnesota Wild was pushed back due to the NHL pause being extended an extra day, as was Dec. 29 against the Chicago Blackhawks (which the Winnipeg Free Press‘ Mike McIntyre reported was due to a Jets’ request due to fan limits.)

The new schedule sees the Jets play in Vegas on Jan 2, on Jan. 4 in Arizona against the Coyotes, and in Colorado on Jan. 6 against the Avalanche. They’ll have a week-long break before playing in Detroit against the Red Wings on Jan. 13.

Jets Trying Their Best to Cope with Down Time

While what was supposed to be a one-week break between Dec. 19 and Dec. 27 was a positive development —given it would give interim head coach Dave Lowry more time to implement changes after Paul Maurice stepped down on Dec. 17 — it’s a question mark as to how well the Jets will play after two entire weeks off.

Related: Jets’ Unexpected Week Off Comes at the Perfect Time

Lowry has been practicing the team much harder than Maurice did, with hour-plus-long practices on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday (Maurice’s practices were usually no more than 40 minutes.) It’s obvious Lowry is using the time off as a training camp to assess what he has and what needs changing for the club that came into the season considered a Stanley Cup contender but has underperformed.

Dave Lowry Winnipeg Jets
New interim head coach Dave Lowry has been practicing his team hard during the two-week break. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

“We’ve grinded a little harder than we normally would at this time of the year,” Dave Lowry said Tuesday. “We want to make sure we take full advantage of the opportunity to use these practices and use them and do things with a purpose. And that’s getting ready for our next game.”

Whether going harder in practice will make up for the NHL forcing them to be off for so long — or whether the Jets have been put at a competitive disadvantage — remains to be seen.

February May Be Busy, But it All Depends on COVID (Again)

The hope was, with every NHL player but one fully vaccinated, all this pivoting and adjusting on the fly could be put in the past and everyone could enjoy a normal season. But this virus has been nothing if persistent and Omicron’s transmissibility has once again thrown everything out of whack.

The Jets’ next home game is scheduled for Jan. 15 against the Senators, but it doesn’t seem likely that one will be played in front of a full house either, despite Manitoba’s current health orders expiring Jan. 11.

Manitoba, like the rest of Canada, is setting records when it comes to raw case numbers as Omicron sweeps through at a rapid pace. Manitoba set another single-day case record Wednesday with 947 and had a five-day test-positivity rate of 24.2 per cent. Hospitalizations are also rising slightly.

Pierre-Luc Dubois Joseph Woll Winnipeg Jets Toronto Maple Leafs
The only way NHL hockey’s going to be played at Canada Life Centre is if fans are allowed in the stands. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

The hope is that the Omicron wave will have settled by February, and the Jets can make up the five homes games they lost with fans in the stands. They currently have no games scheduled between Feb. 1 and Feb. 23, due to the three-week gap originally created so NHLers could participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing (the NHL announced Dec. 22 that players wouldn’t be going.)

That would lead to a condensed stretch akin to what was seen during the 56-game 2020-21 campaign. But like that season, everything’s once again at the mercy of COVID-19.