COVID issues force Red Wings to shut down through at least Dec. 26

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit Given recent developments it seemed inevitable. On Sunday it came to pass.

The Red Wings have shut down team operations until at least after the NHL's holiday break that concludes Dec. 26 due to an uptick in positive COVID cases, the league announced Sunday.

Sunday, the Wings placed forwards Sam Gagner, Pius Suter and Joe Veleno, and assistant video coach Jeff Weintraub, into protocol.

They join coach Jeff Blashill, assistant coach Alex Tanguay, forwards Carter Rowney, Givani Smith, Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen and Robby Fabbri, all of whom are currently in protocol.

Defensemen Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser, and forward Tyler Bertuzzi, all recently came off the list.

The Wings' game Monday at Little Caesars Arena against the Colorado Avalanche was already postponed late last week because of a rapid COVID spread among the Avalanche.

Sunday's announcement from the league postpones the Wings' game Thursday at the Minnesota Wild.

Also in jeopardy is the Dec. 27 game in New York against the Rangers. All NHL teams are off Dec. 24-26 for the league's holiday break (no games or practices). It's unlikely the NHL would make the Wings play on the Dec. 27, given they would not have been on the ice since Dec. 18 (Saturday's 5-2 victory over New Jersey).

The Wings didn't practice Sunday, and had decided to not gather and practice Monday. General manager Steve Yzerman spoke to the media Saturday regarding the recent COVID issues surrounding his team, and will likely update the situation later in the week.

The decision Sunday was made by the NHL, its players association, and team's medical advisers, said the league.

Pius Suter — STATS: 82 games, 15 goals, 21 assists, minus-11 rating. CONTRACT: Signed through 2022-23 season, $3.25 million cap hit. ANALYSIS: The hope was Suter was going to fill the hole centering the second line but he there was too much inconsistency, and not enough production.  Might be best suited down the lineup. GRADE: C

“A decision on when the Red Wings’ training facilities will re-open will be made by the League and the NHLPA in the coming days,” the NHL said in a statement. “The League is in the process of reviewing and revising the Red Wings’ regular-season schedule.

“The Red Wings have followed, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of their Players, staff and community at large as set by the NHL, local, state and federal agencies.”

The Wings and Avs join the Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks who have had to stop play this week.

The NHL also announced Sunday, after meeting with respective medical experts amid the increasing number of positive test results and increasing number of postponed games, that the league and players association "will continue to play the 2021-22 regular season schedule."

The league said there have been a low number of positive cases that have resulted in concerning symptoms or serious illness. 

The pattern of positive COVID results will be monitored, as will the depth of lineups by teams "to ensure both the health and safety of the players and integrity of league competition."

The NHL did postpone cross-border travel. Given the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions, effective on Monday, all games involving a Canadian-based team playing a U.S.-based team from Dec. 20-23 — a total of 12 — will be postponed and rescheduled.

The postponements are likely to impact the NHL and players' association decision on participation in February's Winter Olympics.

The NHL said Sunday it expects to make a call regarding players' participation in Beijing soon. 

Given the severe impact to the regular-season schedule, along with NHL players becoming increasingly uncertain about protocols in China if players were to contract COVID there, there has been a growing sense players weren't thrilled about participating.

"Given the disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events — 27 games had been postponed as of Saturday and at least 12 more will be postponed through Dec. 23 — and the continued uncertainty caused by the ongoing COVID pandemic, the NHL and NHLPA are actively discussing the matter of NHL Player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, and expect to be in a position to announce a final determination in the coming days," the NHL announcement said.

Wings captain Dylan Larkin, after Saturday's 5-2 victory over New Jersey, spoke about the stress around the Wings and NHL teams these days.

"It’s difficult right now," Larkin said. "You see guys go down, and the world (in general) right now with the spike, it’s hard. You have to be a great professional and come ready to play and really be dialed in to nutrition and doing everything possible to stay safe.

"It’s very difficult and it really seems that there’s no way to stop it."

Twitter: @tkulfan