A COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread among the Wild, with two players added to the NHL's COVID protocols Monday and another two games postponed.
"It's definitely creeping its way through the team," General Manager Bill Guerin said.
The Wild has 11 players unavailable after Victor Rask and Carson Soucy joined Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Ian Cole, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Foligno, Brad Hunt, Marcus Johansson, Jared Spurgeon and Nico Sturm on the NHL's list of COVID-related absences.
Although the league isn't specifying if players on this list have tested positive for the virus, Guerin said players who have COVID-19 are experiencing minor symptoms like achiness and a loss of taste and smell. He also expected more Wild players to be sidelined and said one staff member has been affected.
"It's just highly contagious," Guerin said. "I think once it gets out there, it's out there and kind of luck of the draw if you're gonna get it or not.
"The cases are coming kind of bit by bit. We're getting a couple here, couple there. Maybe we'll get a couple more tomorrow. We just have to be patient and ride it out. I think the most important thing is that people get to the other side of this healthy, and we'll resume playing hockey when it's safe to do so."
The Wild season was shut down Wednesday after five players were added to the protocols list after three of four consecutive games against the Colorado Avalanche, which is now also on hiatus. At the time, four Wild games were postponed and the team's facilities in St. Paul were shuttered.
Games scheduled for Thursday against St. Louis at Xcel Energy Center and Saturday at Los Angeles have also been pushed back, with a decision on when the team can resume practice expected later this week.
The NHL is relying on medical advisers to determine when the risk of a further outbreak is low and under control to green light a team's return instead of going off a set number of unavailable players. An asymptomatic player can exit isolation 10 days after a positive test; someone who is symptomatic needs at least 10 days to have gone by since symptoms first appeared, to be fever-free for at least a day and had symptoms improve or to have tested negative twice.
The great unknown
Guerin isn't sure when the Wild will restart and was skeptical of a tentative reopening on Wednesday. He said there was a plan in place for how the team would proceed, but that was before more positive cases popped up. The next game on the Wild's schedule is Feb. 16 at Los Angeles.
"The most important thing is everybody gets out on the other side OK and we'll see, and we'll take it day by day," Guerin said.
With 11 players unavailable, the Wild is one of the teams most impacted by the virus since the NHL season began almost a month ago. Six other clubs have been stalled, with Dallas getting its start delayed after 17 players tested positive during training camp. New Jersey, which has 19 players unavailable, is also on pause.
Foligno was the first active Wild player to go into the protocols on Jan. 31, three days after Los Angeles' Andreas Athanasiou was added ahead of a Wild-Kings game at Xcel Energy Center.
Slowing it down
Guerin said the Wild conducts contact tracing to find out who an infected person has come across but not to learn the source of an outbreak. He acknowledged the virus could have been spread during a game, but said the Wild has been following every protocol and there wasn't much the team could have done differently except remain in its Colorado hotel.
The Wild flew home from Denver on Thursday with the players in the protocols at the time traveling separately. The next day, Cole was placed on the protocols list and then Hunt joined Sunday before more additions Monday.
"We just have to be patient, not let it get to us and do what we have to do to get to the other side and we'll be OK," Guerin said.
In the meantime, players are to quarantine and not leave their houses.
Time to heal?
Injured players are "getting better" and receiving therapy, Guerin said.
Defenseman Matt Dumba, who had his right leg crumple beneath him during an awkward fall to the ice on Jan. 30, "could be skating next week," Guerin said. "He's feeling pretty good. It could have been a lot worse."
With Dumba and Johansson hurt and Kevin Fiala finishing up a three-game suspension for boarding, the Wild was utilizing its taxi squad in its final games before the outbreak worsened. But Guerin isn't forecasting a lineup laden with minor league call-ups to get the Wild back in action amid this bout with COVID-19, especially considering how difficult the salary cap logistics would be.
"We'd be better off just taking the extra time and making sure our guys here are healthy," he said. "If we have to wait a few more days, we have to wait a few more days. I don't think this is something that we want to cram a round peg into a square hole. Let's just wait it out and be patient and do the right thing. We'll be OK in the end."
Despite the holdup, Guerin is confident the Wild will play all 56 games in this already shortened season and said the league has planned for delays like this.
Lingering effects from COVID-19 is a concern, and players will undergo cardiac testing before getting cleared to return. But Guerin believes players' ages and being in shape will help them.And when the puck does drop again for the Wild, he isn't bracing for a letdown.
"We might not be as sharp," Guerin said. "We might not have four or five practices to get under our belt, but that shouldn't deter our competitive nature and put our best effort out there.
"No excuses. Other teams are doing it so when we get back, we have the same expectations as we always do."