Behind The Bench: Sabres games postponed due to COVID concerns, coach tests positive

Feb 4, 2021

The Buffalo Sabres will have at least four postponed games after a recent COVID outbreak. Multiple Sabres are at risk after playing some weekend games against the New Jersey Devils-- a team who now has over ten of their own players on the COVID-19 list. Buffalo Hockey Beat reporter Bill Hoppe breaks down what happened this past week.

  

UPDATE: Buffalo Sabres 61-year old coach Ralph Kreuger has tested positive for COVID.

Nick Lippa: The next four games for the Sabres have been postponed due to COVID concerns. How did this all unfold? 

Bill Hoppe: The Sabres played two weekend games at home Saturday and Sunday afternoon against the New Jersey Devils, who had some cases then. And the Sabres practiced Monday like usual but because of the snowstorm in the New York area, they pushed back their flight to 2 a.m. Tuesday morning. So they're going to travel for their game against the Islanders the day of the game, which is very, very unusual. 

But on Tuesday morning, the NHL postponed that game because with the Sabres moving their flight, they wouldn't have been able to conduct a proper testing and the proper context tracing they needed to do. And then late Tuesday afternoon, it came out that Taylor Hall and Rasmus Ristolainen from the Sabres had been added to the NHL COVID list and the next three games through Monday had been postponed. And the facilities are closed until further notice. Now the Sabres are just kind of at a standstill waiting this out. 

We have heard reports the Sabres believe playing the Devils is a direct cause for shutting down temporarily. Do we have anything concrete about how the organization feels at this point about how this has been handled from the league? 

BH: Well, there's nothing real concrete, but there have been reports the Sabres weren't happy, that they didn't want to play the games against New Jersey. And I understand that New Jersey is up to 14 cases. I mean, they hit a bunch over the weekend. So looking back, it seems kind of crazy that those games went on. So who knows how this happened exactly. But I mean, I can't blame the Sabres if they are upset about how things were handled. 

And being on the COVID list doesn’t mean you are COVID positive, correct?

BH: Yeah. That doesn't mean they have it. It could mean a few different things. They were possibly in contact with someone who had it or something like that. So it doesn't mean they have it. 

How is COVID looking league wide at the moment? Is anybody else running into COVID problems like the Sabres and Devils? 

BH: Yeah, I mean, it's hit the NHL hard. And my thought is it's going to be like this probably through the rest of the season. I really don't see a way of avoiding this. And so far, there's been 18 games postponed. I think it's affected 14 teams, all of them in the United States. So here we are. Less than three weeks in and it's already affected almost half the league.  

We see now the NWHL has postponed their season right before the playoffs, with it being unlikely they will return this year. Could more postponements lead to the NHL shutting things down in some fashion league wide at some point?

BH: it could come to that. The way things have played out the first few weeks here is as bad as they've seen in some respects. I still don't see that happening. That would obviously be the worst case scenario, the last case scenario, but it could come to that. It happened last year. The league shut down last year for about four or five months. I think, hopefully, if it has to shut down this year, it wouldn't be that long. Maybe only a week or two or days. But so far, they've been able to grind through this. I mean, there's a lot of makeup games already. I think the NHL has given them themselves possibly some time at the end of the season to make up games before the playoffs. But if there is an outbreak that affects several teams, not just one or two, it could come down to this. 

So when should we expect the Sabres back?

BH: Well, hopefully the Sabres are back early next week. Their games are postponed through Monday. And after that, hopefully everything's fine. And they can get back and have a couple days of practice and play the Washington Capitals. But we really don't know. It's kind of a great unknown right now. It could go on several more days or another week. We don't know at this point. 

I got to imagine looking at the win percentage is going to be a huge thing for teams this year if eventually some games are outright cancelled. 

BH: If games can't be made up, you would see like last season, points percentage would determine the standings and the playoff seedings, and so forth. But I mean, it seems like right now these games can be made up. But once you get past I would think four or five games, it's gonna get tougher and tougher even if the league does have some time after the scheduled end of the regular season. 

For the time being, yes, the Sabres are gonna drop down the standings if most of the division has played more games with them, But I mean, they're in good shape. When things got paused they had 10 points. Another win, they would have moved up into a playoff spot, just a few points out of  second or third place. As much as people get down around them, as much as just one loss kind of hurts the fan base, they've had a decent start by their standards.

You can read Bill Hoppe's articles at his Buffalo Hockey Beat website and at BuffaloNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BillHoppeNHL.