Just days after captain Blake Wheeler entered the NHL's COVID-19 protocol after confirming a positive diagnosis for the coronavirus, Mark Scheifele has joined his Winnipeg Jets teammate.
The Jets confirmed Thursday morning Scheifele tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, keeping him out of the team's morning skate ahead of the home-opener versus the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night. The Jets remained hopeful Scheifele might be able to play against the Ducks after receiving a negative test on Wednesday.
If he had been able to produce a second straight negative result Thursday, then he would have been removed from the league's grip and cleared to participate in all club activities. Instead, Thursday's test came back positive, confirming the original diagnosis.
"We have game-time decisions all the time," head coach Paul Maurice said after the morning workout. "The difference is if a guy has a pulled groin, you don't have to worry about it spreading to the guy he sits beside on the plane."
Scheifele has already missed one game this year after serving the final of a four-game suspension he earned during last season's playoffs. That game, too, was against the Ducks.
The rest of the team has been tested, with all results coming back negative. The Jets will continue to undergo daily testing to ensure it hasn’t spread to anyone else.
Maurice has been in contact with Scheifele and Wheeler, a duo that makes up two-thirds of the Jets top line. Scheifele remains at home in isolation, while Wheeler continues to isolate in the U.S. – days into a minimum 10-day quarantine after testing positive during the Jets recent season-opening, three-game road trip through Anaheim, San Jose and Minneapolis.
"Just texting back and forth. They’re in as good of spirits as you can," Maurice said. "Mark is quite hopeful and feels good. Blake is on the mend. Both wish they could play tonight. We wish they could as well."
Because Scheifele is asymptomatic, he might not necessarily have to endure a lengthy quarantine, such as the case with Wheeler, who has been showing symptoms. So long as he stays symptom-free, the Jets said Scheifele is eligible to return to the team following two negative tests within a 24-hour period.
The Jets recalled Dominic Toninato from the Manitoba Moose and ran 11 forwards and seven defencemen against the Ducks, with Nathan Beaulieu being the extra blueliner. Meanwhile, the salaries of Scheifele and Wheeler will count against the salary cap, which, for Winnipeg, is already near the US$81.5 ceiling.
Many in the Jets locker room wished a quick recovery for their teammates, but few seemed all that concerned about what it could mean moving forward. The entire team is fully vaccinated, and while there's always a fear more players could test positive, with extra health protocols back in play – such as wearing masks and social distancing whenever possible – it feels more like a waiting game than anything else.
"Having gone through this last year with the team in Vancouver… anytime you can get a non-positive result back it’s good for your group," said Jets defenceman Nate Schmidt, who was with the Vancouver Canucks when they had a COVID-19 outbreak last season. "Hopefully this is our last time going through it but at the same time… it’s hard when you’re possibly missing two of your top forwards."
Schmidt said he's contracted COVID-19 twice, including the outbreak with the Canucks in April that affected more than 20 players and staff. But this time, because everyone is fully vaccinated, it feels different.
"Last year you went through it, no one had been, so you kind of felt that inevitable feeling that it was coming for you," Schmidt said. "I had tested negative five days before the first guy had tested positive in Vancouver. I thought I was in the clear but even then, it still finds a way. For me, personally, I wouldn’t say I’m more, or less, scared. I’d say I’m less concerned for the fact that our whole team is vaccinated."
Veteran forward Paul Stastny said he's talked to Wheeler every day and that the captain is doing fine, adding any concern would be for Wheeler's wife and having to take care of three young children at home. But he also voiced frustration with the NHL's COVID protocols, specifically around testing.
Stastny talked as if regular testing, with players tested every 72 hours, was somehow setting teams up for failure. He also suggested the issue has turned political, while providing characteristics of two sides despite not identifying which exactly belonged to each group.
"If you're going to test all the time, you're just looking for someone to get it. But if no one's feeling symptoms, and you're not going to be tested, you shouldn’t… I don't think you should be testing all the time," Stastny said.
"I know it's a new virus, so I think in that sense it's frustrating a little bit. With something new like this, everyone has different opinions, everyone's either completely one side or complete the other side. There's a lot of fear from one side, there's a lot of… I wouldn't say fear, but just a lot of openness from the other side. So, I think that’s the world we live in right now, everything's kind of divided, everything's very political, divisive like this, and it's just another issue."
The Jets wrap up their two-game homestand Saturday against the Nashville Predators, before heading back to California for a three-game trip through Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.
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.