After a short-staffed practice on Sunday, GM Kyle Dubas addressed the Maple Leafs’ current situation as it pertains to COVID-19 and postponed games.
Update on Sunday’s game postponement:
Game and ticketing update for December 29: pic.twitter.com/PCo2QY9K3d
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 27, 2021
Players participating in today's practice:
Forwards: J. Anderson, M. Bunting, K. Clifford, P. Engvall, O. Kaše, M. Marner, A. Matthews, N. Ritchie, B. Seney, A. Steeves, J. Tavares
Defencemen: A. Biega, C. Dahlström, J. Holl, F. Král, T. Liljegren
Goalies: I. Scott, J. Woll
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) December 26, 2021
Kyle Dubas’ update on the team’s current COVID-19 situation
Dubas: All told, between the Leafs and Marlies, the Marlies had 24 players and five staff test positive for COVID-19. The Leafs had 14 players and seven staff members between active roster players and reserve players.
Our game [on December 27], and every game in the league, is postponed. We returned to practice with 11 forwards, five defense, and two goaltenders on the ice. Mitch Marner returned to practice today. It is his first practice with the team.
That is where we stand. At this moment, we are continuing to plan towards playing on Wednesday against Pittsburgh. That is the right mindset for us to have. We will get two or three more players back tomorrow — Alex Kerfoot, Wayne Simmonds, and Jason Spezza — as long as they clear their cardiac screening in the morning and gain full clearance from our medical staff. John Tavares rejoined the team today.
Kyle Dubas Q&A
What is the update on everyone in the protocol?
Dubas: I have checked in on everybody myself. Everyone seems to be doing well. Some had symptoms at the beginning right after testing positive, whether it is night sweats and chills or a sore throat and cough. One guy has a loss of taste. Otherwise, thankfully, I think all are through without much of a long-term effect, or at least, that is what we hope for now.
Do you have enough guys at the moment to play a game? Can you update us on Mitch Marner’s status?
Dubas: It will all depend on what happens with the players who go through their cardiac screening tomorrow. I don’t believe we would have enough defensemen to play. We would also be short one goaltender. Ian Scott practice today, but he is still on injured reserve. We have Joe Woll that came in and practiced today, but I think we would probably still be short one or two depending on how things shake out. I might have the days confused in my mind a little bit, so forgive me for that.
Mitch’s status is that his rehab was upended by the shutdown and pause in our activity. It was good to see him out there in practice today, but he is certainly not a player that we would rush along whatsoever.
It is tough to really predict at this point. After a few more days of practice, we will have a better read on that. Certainly, to see him out there in practice today is a step in the right direction.
Was there any exception made with postponed games if there weren’t enough games missed for Mitch Marner to come off of LTIR?
Dubas: It has been an ongoing discussion between Brandon Pridham and the league. I don’t think, in this case, anyone would look at it and say there was anything untoward done. I don’t think we have gained any massive advantage. We just happened to have the Calgary game postponed before we had any positive tests. We had our game in Vancouver postponed and because of the border stuff with Seattle. The whole league was postponed for tomorrow night. Of course, there was our St. Louis game wedged in there as well.
I don’t think we gained any advantage. I sure hope that if he is ready to come back on Wednesday or Saturday, I don’t imagine that would play into it. he has certainly missed the number of days required to be on LTIR, and the games were all on the schedule. If it was going to have to be the games played, you are going to have a lot of players in the league — because of the postponements — that are going to be healthy and not able to play.
I am hopeful that is the case with Mitch and would agree with that whether we had any players on LTIR or not. It certainly would be the right thing to do for any player in the league that is healthy and ready to come back. It is up to the team to make themselves cap compliant, which we would.
What is the condition of Sheldon Keefe and Spencer Carbery at this point?
Dubas: They are on the third day of positive tests for us. Their condition is that both are doing well. I have checked in on Spencer. Sheldon and I talk multiple times per day. They would be coming out on the third day, which would be Tuesday potentially. That is if they are asymptomatic and everything else clears.
What happens if you are still short on D and in goal for the game on Wednesday?
Dubas: I don’t know. I think that is more of a question for the league. Our issue that we have here — notwithstanding the news today on taxi squad and such — is that we don’t have any NHL-contracted players to call up to meet that requirement. The way it shook down with the Marlies is that the majority of players who tested positive early on, save for Kral and Anderson who were here today, were able AHL-contracted players who aren’t at this point eligible to play NHL games.
I think we would be okay for Wednesday. We would probably be one or two short. I don’t have the answer other than that the game is on our schedule and we have to prepare as though we are going to play it.
What has the last week or 10 days been like for the team with this latest chapter in COVID-19 for the team?
Dubas: It has been extraordinarily long days on the phone with our medical team, with the league, and internally trying to figure things out. Every player, because it was the holiday season, seemed to have different circumstances that they were dealing with — and staff members — with regards to family, travel, and so on.
It has been a lot of time on the phone and mostly just trying to make sure everyone is healthy and make sure we are doing everything we can for everybody. Certainly, it is challenging. We are fortunate here to have great staff — whether that is in terms of delivering food, making sure everyone is taken care of, checking in on players, making sure everybody is healthy especially over the Christmas break, and making sure they are doing well, illness and athletics notwithstanding.
It was certainly a major challenge being on the road for that long and only having the one game with the three final games postponed and getting back here with everything paused. Today was our first time on the ice in nine or 10 days. It has been a challenge. You could see today that the guys were a little bit winded through no fault of their own. It is just good to be back.
What was the process of trying to get the COVID-19 players and staff back home?
Dubas: It was a big-time challenge. We had one flight set up for them. At the last second, we were informed by that company… It was very open these people all tested for positive. They assured us that it wasn’t going to be an issue — that they had done this before. We were very open and upfront that these were all COVID-positive travelers.
Sunday morning, very early in the morning, Brad Lynn from our staff called me and said that, at the last second, the pilot of the flight deemed he was uncomfortable transporting them. It was a scramble all day last Sunday — with Brad Lynn, our Director of Team Operations, carrying the ball for most of us — to try to get these guys home.
We were able to secure a flight for them last Sunday night after a full day of back and forth with Dr. Forman using his contacts on the medical transport side of things. We were finally able to get them home on what essentially turned out to be a red eye on Sunday night to get back very early Monday morning.
I know it is an issue throughout the league. I understand where people are coming from not wanting to be in contact with people who are deemed positive with regards to pilots and such. A lot of credit is due to the staff here — Brad Lynn, especially — to get everybody home Sunday night.
On the five postponed games, has the league scheduled anything with the Olympic break now being an option? Has there been any communication in regards to playing games not in Canadian cities because of fan limitations?
Dubas: We haven’t had any insights into the postponed games. Certainly, those three weeks opening up with the Olympics helps to ease the congestion. There is nothing with regards to games being moved out of Canada at all.
Is there any sense of relief that the Leafs won’t be sending a whole bunch of players to Beijing?
Dubas: I don’t know if I would call it relief. I feel for the guys. Some of them might be at the end of their window to go and compete in that event. You want the players to have that opportunity. They talk about it. They relish the opportunity. They want to represent their countries at the Olympics. I certainly feel for the players for whom it might be the only chance because of their age or their last chance.
There is obviously a bit of a risk for the organization, as some have found in the past, in regards to injuries and such. The relief comes this time just in the not having to wade into the unknown as different things were coming up with regards to the amount of time they’d have to quarantine — potentially in Beijing — or who was going to be in charge of dealing with whether you were cleared to come back or not, depending on testing and what those rules were going to be from the IOC or from the host committee.
I think that is where the relief comes: the certainty, one way or another, that the players will be here and there won’t be any prolonged quarantines going to or coming back from the games. Otherwise, I am probably like every other person that is sad that there won’t be a best-on-best event this year as was planned. It’s fortunate that we are able to use that time productively and get some of the games back.