Following the lead of the NBA, the NHL has announced that they will suspend league play, effective immediately. It is a decision that had become unavoidable in order to ensure the health of the league’s players and fans. Expect the AHL and other lower level leagues to follow suit.
NEW YORK (March 12, 2020) – National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman today released the following statement regarding the 2019-20 NHL season:
“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019‑20 season beginning with tonight’s games.
“The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures. However, following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus – and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point – it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.
“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions – including by self-quarantine, where appropriate. Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup. Until then, we thank NHL fans for your patience and hope you stay healthy.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, the Utah Jazz announced that starting center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The NBA immediately announced that they would be suspending play as a number of their teams would need to be quarantined. The NHL is not the NBA, but the potential for players to pass the virus across leagues is high. In the least week Gobert was in New York, Boston and Detroit, his team also hosted the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. All four of those NBA teams share their home arena with the NHL. Gobert was playing in Madison Square Garden — the home of the New York Rangers — a week before he was diagnosed. The Rangers were then at the Pepsi Center to play the Avalanche last night.
We shouldn’t assume that NHL players have contracted the virus, but this just shows how easy it would be. Yesterday was an unprecedented sports news day and the trend has continued on to today.
Here is a chronological sampling of events from Wednesday March 11, 2020. One that will inevitably go down as one of the craziest in sports history:
As well, the NWHL has postponed the Isobel Cup while the MLS and NLL have suspended league play. Many believe the next shoe to drop will be the NCAA cancelling this year’s National Championship tournament.
Right now, there is a lot of speculation as to where the NHL goes from here. Many with close ties to the league believe that the NHL is leaning towards finalizing the standings as is - using points percentage - and picking up with the playoffs whenever they are able to resume play. If true, that’s a tough break for the Winnipeg Jets.
#NHL WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) March 12, 2020
based on points percentage
1. STL .662
2. COL .657
3. DAL .594
1. VGK .606
2. EDM .585
3. VAN .565
1. NSH .565
2. CGY .564
3. WPG .563
4. MIN .558
5. ARI .529
If properly handled (easier said than done) things can get back to back to normal in time for the playoffs. That said, with the way things have been numbed by numerous health organizations, we don’t know that two weeks will be enough and there’s a possibility that the next hockey we see is next preseason. That would suck, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Stanley Cup has been impacted by a pandemic. In the spring of 1919, the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans were playing for the Stanley Cup. With the series tied at 2-2-1 (apparently in 1919 you could tie playoff games), several Montreal players and the Canadiens’ manager, George Kennedy, came down with the “Spanish flu”. A few members of the Metropolitans also became sick. The NHL was forced to cancel the Stanley Cup final with no winner decided.
It’s 101 years later and we might be back to no Stanley Cup winner.
It sounds as though the league is hoping to avoid this at all costs:
Hearing as part of the #NHL's due diligence process, teams have been asked to provide arena building availability through the end of July.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) March 12, 2020
That just brings up more questions. Do they re-work the rest of the regular season schedule? When is the draft held? Does free agency get pushed back to August 1st?
However this plays out, the world of sports is in uncharted territory right now. Maybe the NHL cancels the regular season, and/or the playoffs - maybe there’s no 2020 Stanley Cup winner. We likely aren’t going to know how things will proceed for a couple of weeks but for now, everything is on the table. The NHL is going to work closely with the NBA and other North American professional sports teams to figure out the best course of action going forward.