The Winnipeg Jets had yet to take off on their first road trip of the season before hitting an unhealthy dose of turbulence.
As the Jets boarded a plane Sunday for a three-game road trip, beginning with the Toronto Maple Leafs Monday night, the team was missing two top-six defencemen and had question marks swirling around marquee forwards Patrik Laine and Nicolaj Ehlers.
D-man Dylan DeMelo will not make the trip, missing his second straight game to stay home and offer support for his partner as they tend to their newborn baby. Blue-liner Tucker Poolman will also stay back, falling under the NHL’s new designation of COVID Protocol Related Absence (CPRA). Poolman was added to the league-wide CPRA list on Saturday, and was the reason the Jets cancelled their practice — although, according to head coach Paul Maurice, bailing on the on-ice workout was out of caution and not necessity.
Laine left Sunday’s practice in and Ehlers did not make an appearance.
“(DeMelo) is going to stay back with his wife and new baby, who are fine. As you can imagine, getting people in to support and help right now is very difficult, with all of the quarantining issues,” Maurice said. “Tucker Poolman is in the COVID Protocol Related Absence, so he will not make the trip.”
It’s important to note that just because a player is on the CPRA list it doesn’t mean they’ve tested positive for COVID-19. In fact, according to the NHL’s guidelines, five different situations could apply:
1) an initial positive test remains unconfirmed until confirmatory testing is completed pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol;
2) mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals pursuant to the Positive Test Protocol;
3) required quarantine as a high-risk close contact in accordance with the Positive Test Protocol;
4) isolation based on a confirmed positive test result and/or;
5) quarantine for travel or other reasons outlined in the COVID-19 protocol.
While coaches are forbidden to release any additional info on where a player falls into the league’s COVID-19 protocols, Maurice did offer some additional insight and where to look for clues.
“I’m not allowed to tell you why a guy went in, but I can give you an example. If you had a sore throat today and said, ‘My throat’s a little sore,’ you’re out. And you’re out of the room and you’re in the protocol,” Maurice said.
“We’ll test you out and you continue to test negative…and your symptoms disappear, then you’re no longer part of it. How you come in…will result on how fast you get out, is the best explanation I can give you.”
The Jets faced a similar situation last week with Ehlers. Ehlers woke up with a sore throat and was banished, missing a full practice and morning skate. He tested negative over two days and was cleared to play in the season-opener, chipping in an assist in a 4-3 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames.
Maurice said he was “dealing with his issue from the other day,” adding he wasn’t in COVID-19 protocol and was expected to travel with the team.
Laine is in a similar situation, as far as his status for the game. Laine attended practice but had to leave midway due to some discomfort. Maurice said the 22-year-old “couldn’t warm up right during practice” but hesitated to even list him day-to-day. That’s good news for the Jets and Laine, who paced Winnipeg with two goals — including the OT winner — and an assist in the win over the Flames.
The loss of DeMelo and Poolman is significant. DeMelo was expected to start with Josh Morrissey on the Jets top pairing, but has been moved around in training camp. Poolman, who is coming off his first full NHL season, slid into that spot beside Morrissey, logging 18:53 of ice time versus the Flames, including 2:36 on the penalty kill.
Judging by Sunday’s practice, it appears Sami Niku will play with Morrissey, with Logan Stanley, the Jets’ 6-7, first-round pick in 2016, lining up beside Nathan Beaulieu. Another option would be rookie Dylan Samberg who, along with forward C.J. Suess, was re-assigned to the team’s taxi squad — a group of an additional four to six players to help combat roster complications owing to COVID-19.
“Everyone knows in any season there is going to be adjustments on the fly, injuries, all kinds of stuff, so I think you just have to be able to adapt as a player and that’s where communication comes in,” Morrissey said. “We moved around a little bit in some of training camp, and a lot of the guys have been here in the past. So you just have to adjust on the fly and be ready for anything.”
Though Ehlers is expected to play, if he can’t go Andrew Copp would move to that line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Jansen Harkins, who has been cleared to play after dealing with a minor injury, would join Adam Lowry and Mason Appleton on the third line. Mathieu Perreault was working in Laine’s spot alongside Paul Stastny and Kyle Connor, but with the Finnish sniper expected to play, Perreault would move back to the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis.
It’s enough line shuffling to make one’s head spin, but the Jets are adamant they’re taking things in stride.
“It’s kind of what we’ve been doing for the last 10 months, since this all started. Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep your social distance from people, that’s all you can really do is worry about yourself. Control your own environment and that comes to every single guy on this team, every single guy in the league,” said Scheifele, who logged a team-high 26:21 of ice time against the Flames. “You all have to hold each other accountable for their actions and abide by all those protocols that have been set forth by the professionals that we’re relying on. I’m doing everything that I’ve been told to do for the last 10 months and that’s all I can really control.”
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
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