Detroit Red Wings, limited in numbers, but determined to get back to normal after shutdown

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings emerged — some of them, anyway — from their weeklong shutdown Sunday, taking small steps toward resuming their season.

Ten skaters and one goaltender took part in practice at Little Caesars Arena, though coach Jeff Blashill was at home finishing what he anticipated to be his last day of quarantine. He was among multiple Wings who tested positive within a few days of one another, which led to shutting down Dec. 19.

There were so many personnel that tested positive for COVID-19 that the NHL moved the Christmas break up to start Dec. 22. Sunday was the first day back, and while Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen came out of pandemic protocol, Lucas Raymond and Nick Leddy were added to the list of players with positive tests.

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At least some players were able to get back on the ice.

“We’ll take a step closer to a real practice Monday, but you are limited with the numbers that you have,” Blashill said. “A number of guys are still in protocol. We’ll be able to do a tiny bit more from a team perspective, but it will still be about guys getting their legs and feeling the puck and getting those things back.”

The NHL already postponed games through Monday as it deals with forging ahead with playing a full schedule amid rising numbers of personnel around the league testing positive for the virus. On Sunday, three games scheduled for Tuesday were postponed, bringing the total number to 67. The Wings are scheduled to play Wednesday at the New York Islanders.

The Wings were hard hit by the virus leading up to Christmas. Between Dec. 15-22,Fabbri, Rasmussen, Blashill, Alex Nedeljkovic, Givani Smith, Carter Rowney, Filip Zadina, Sam Gagner, Pius Suter, Joe Veleno, Adam Erne and Jordan Oesterle, assistant coach Alex Tanguay, and an unidentified member of the support staff all entered COVID-19 protocols. Blashill anticipated having seven forwards, five defenseman and one goaltender available for practice Monday.

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Blashill said he started coughing on the way home from the Dec. 16 at Carolina, and tested positive the next day. That led to Grand Rapids Griffins coach Ben Simon serving as acting head coach Dec. 18, when the Wings beat the New Jersey Devils, 5-2. When four players entered protocol Dec. 19, it was no longer feasible to field a lineup for the one game that at that point was still on the schedule, Dec. 23 at Minnesota.

“It was probably the right move, I guess, given where everybody was at across the league,” Blashill said. “Where we were at, we were going to have a hard time fielding a roster. And at that point, it’s not so much about competitive equity as just filling a roster. We had number of guys in protocol and a new of guys continue to move into protocol.

“We are in a difficult time with this pandemic and ultimately what anybody wants is to be able to field the requisite number of players and be able to play.”

Raymond entered protocol before Christmas, but Leddy was added Sunday. Tyler Bertuzzi, Danny DeKeyser and Marc Staal also have tested positive this season.

Speaking Dec. 18, general manager Steve Yzerman questioned whether it made sense to test vaccinated players (of which Bertuzzi is the only exception) who are asymptomatic. Blashill expressed confidence in how the NHL is handling playing through the pandemic, and dealing with the highly contagious Omicron variant.

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“I don’t know if anybody knows the exact best way to handle what we are all going through, and that’s trying to run a professional sports league and play games within this pandemic,” Blashill said. “They are hard decisions that are being made.”

“I’m sure the guys that haven’t yet tested positive are anxious, I’m certain of that. This seems to be highly transmissible. We are all anxious. This is the world in which we are living right and we have to find every way possible to make the most of it.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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