VANCOUVER — The Toronto Maple Leafs have added another five people to the NHL's COVID-19 protocol, including head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Defencemen TJ Brodie and Travis Dermott, goalie Jack Campbell and assistant coach Spencer Carbery were also placed on the protocol list Saturday as the league postponed games amid a skyrocketing number of cases.
Toronto was set to face the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday, but the NHL postponed the game about five hours before puck drop. Sunday games between the Canucks and Arizona Coyotes and the Leafs and Seattle Kraken have also been pushed back indefinitely.
The Leafs placed John Tavares, Alex Kerfoot, Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds on the NHL's COVID-19 protocol list on Friday, and the team cancelled practice as a precaution.
Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said two of the four players are asymptomatic, while one had mild symptoms that have dissipated and another has a fever, chills and body aches.
Dubas said he hoped the NHL wouldn't have to hit pause on the season due to the rapid spread of COVID.
“I sure hope we don’t have to pause or delay," he told reporters Saturday. "But if it’s in the best interest of the health and safety of the players and the fans and the public in general, I’m sure the league will make the right decision.”
The Leafs planned to send anyone who tested negative back to Toronto on a charter flight Saturday afternoon. The team is also looking at options for getting players who tested positive back home, Dubas said.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to get everyone with their families for the holidays," he said.
The Toronto Marlies, Toronto's American Hockey League affiliate, have also been hit hard by COVID. Dubas said 10 players have tested positive for the virus and all players and staff are isolating for 10 days.
Vancouver has seven people on the NHL protocol list, including defencemen Tyler Myers, Brad Hunt, Tucker Poolman and Luke Schenn, forwards Tyler Motte and Juho Lammikko, and assistant coach Jason King.
Canucks president and interim GM Jim Rutherford said some in the group have experienced "very mild" symptoms and the team was awaiting the results of more tests on Saturday.
"We’ll keep our fingers crossed that there aren’t any more (positives)," he said.
Rutherford said he wasn't "totally surprised" to hear Saturday's game was postponed, but was disappointed, in part because the Canucks (14-15-2) are in fine form, riding a six-game win streak under new head coach Bruce Boudreau.
"From a team point of view, this was going to be a really good test for us," he said. "We’re disappointed, but safety comes first, the safety of the players, the safety of the fans. And I think this was the right decision.”
The Leafs (20-8-2) haven't played since Tuesday when they beat the Oilers 5-1 in Edmonton.
The Oilers added right-winger Jesse Puljuarvi to COVID protocol on Saturday, hours before a scheduled matchup with the Kraken in Seattle.
Montreal Canadiens left-winger Arrturi Lehkonen was also placed on the list.
The NHL paused Boston Bruins' and Nashville Predators' seasons through at least Dec. 26 on Saturday, citing "concern for a rising number of positive cases as well as the potential for continued COVID spread in the coming days."
Boston has seven players and two staff in COVID protocol, while Nashville has eight players and seven employees on the list.
The NHL said in a statement that the decision to postpone games was made by medical groups with the teams, the league and the NHL Players' Association.
The league said it is in the process of reviewing and revising its regular-season schedule.
Five of the games originally set for Saturday have now been pushed, including Florida at Minnesota, Boston at Montreal, Tampa Bay at Colorado and Columbus at Calgary.
The Calgary Flames — who have 19 players and 13 employees in isolation — saw their season paused earlier this week. The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers followed suit as the virus swept through their teams.
The NHL and NHLPA announced earlier on Saturday enhanced protocols aimed at curbing the spread of the virus amid the emergence of the omicron variant.
The new measures include daily testing, increased use of masks in team facilities and while travelling, physical distancing and prohibitions on players dining out while on the road.
The league and the players' union will re-evaluate the enhanced protocols by Jan. 7.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press