Detroit — The Winter Olympics would have been special, something Dylan Larkin had looked forward to and wanted a chance to participate in for a long time.
But when the NHL and the its players association jointly announced last week the decision not to participate in Beijing in February because of the impact of COVID-19 on the NHL regular-season schedule and logistical issues in China, it wasn’t a major shock.
For Larkin, who appeared headed for a prominent role on Team USA, it hurt.
“It would have been an honor to go and represent the U.S.,” Larkin said Monday after the Wings’ practice. “I would have absolutely jumped on that opportunity. Like everyone says, it’s disappointing.
“I haven’t had the chance to represent the United States in a best-on-best tournament, and it would have been one of the greatest honors of my career, so far.”
Larkin has represented the U.S at men’s and junior world championships, but not the Olympics. With 15 goals and 29 points in 27 games, Larkin is off to one of his best starts in his pro career. He was a favorite to land a Team USA roster spot.
This was expected to be one of the most talent-laden Olympic tournaments ever, with stars such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Nathan McKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane all either in their prime, or still playing at a high level.
There is a sliver of hope these Winter Olympics may still be postponed until 2023, but the chances are remote and no one is certain COVID becomes a non-issue at that point.
Many players are touting having a best-against-best tournament, such as another World Cup, to grow the game and fill the void of these Olympics.
“Hopefully they can figure something out to get the best players in this game to play each other for their home countries in the near future,” Larkin said. “It would be great for the game.”
Back to work
Jeff Blashill was off the protocol list and back on the ice Monday, coaching a team that 15 skaters and a goalie off its regular roster. The rest are still on the protocol list.
“It was good to be able to get up and go to work and just know you had some responsibilities for the day,” Blashill said. “So, that part was great. It didn’t take me long to lose my voice, which doesn’t surprise any of our players. It was great to get going.”
This was only the second on-ice practice for the Wings since the week-long shutdown due to COVID. With less than a full roster, the Wings were limited.
Physically, the Wings aren’t where they’d normally be.
“It’s hard because guys have been off a long time and you’re balancing pushing them to get ready for (a possible game) two days from now and not overpushing them,” Blashill said. “There’s an edge there and we’re trying to get to that edge. I’m sure guys didn’t feel great and guys certainly weren’t zipping around the puck like you’re normally (used to seeing). They’re rusty and our guys our job is to knock the rust off and get some semblance of our system in order.”
The Wings and Islanders are still saddled with COVID issues, lineup regulars on the protocol list, but Wednesday’s game on Long Island is still scheduled to take place.
“We’re planning on playing until someone tells us otherwise,” Blashill said. “That’s all we can do. It’s on our schedule and we’re planning on playing.”
Larkin was pulled from a game last month in Dallas when a COVID test showed a positive, only to learn the next day the test was a “false positive” and Larkin was allowed to return to the Wings’ lineup.
Larkin said the current climate around the NHL, with so many players contracting the virus, makes for anxious times around the locker room.
“It’s a concern,” Larkin said. “You’re thinking about it constantly and there’s a bit of anxiousness with testing every day at the rink and wondering if you’re going to be done for 10 days or whether you’ll be able to play.
“I spoke about it before, you have to be a good pro and have to be ready for whatever comes at you. It is a very tough situation, showing up and not knowing if you’re going to be positive or negative.
“You just deal with it. You can’t dwell on how many guys are missing or what could happen. You just have to be ready to play.”
Forwards Givani Smith, Pius Suter and Carter Rowney were cleared Monday to rejoin practice, as well as Blashill and assistant coach Alex Tanguay.
Suter was the only one who didn’t practice, skating on his own with coaches later in the day, and set to rejoin a team practice Tuesday.
Still on the protocol list are goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, defensemen Nick Leddy and Jordan Oesterle and forwards Filip Zadina, Adam Erne, Lucas Raymond, Sam Gagner and Joe Veleno.
Some of those players are expected to be cleared in time for Tuesday’s practice. They could be ready to play Wednesday.
The NHL is allowing teams to carry a four-man taxi squad, similar to last season, in an effort for teams to fill lineups and have the ability to have full-scale practices.
The Wings Monday recalled four players from Grand Rapids to be on the taxi squad — forward Riley Barber, defensemen Luke Witkowski and Dan Renouf and goaltender Victor Brattstrom.
Blashill said some players took advantage of last week’s time off to get booster shots.
“Not getting into how many, or specific players because it’s nobody’s right to know that, but certainly some guys did and certainly it was offered,” Blashill said. “If the booster could help us keep people on the ice, players have been encouraged to do that, with the end goal staying eligible to play and not contract the virus.”
… There’s still no timetable on a return for forward Jakub Vrana (shoulder), who had surgery during the exhibition season and has yet to play this season.
“Nothing in the forseeable future, the next couple of weeks certainly he won’t be available,” Blashill said. “Originally my thought was after the Olympic break (late February), and I don’t want you to hold me to that, and now, it’s going to be a little different (with no Olympics) but somewhere in that time frame.”
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