On ice: NHL suspends season amid coronavirus pandemic
By Stephen Whyno and John Wawrow
AP Hockey Writers
The NHL is placing its season on ice — for now.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league will “pause” its season, effective immediately, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The move came one day after the NBA suspended its season after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
Bettman said there are hopes of resuming the season, holding the playoffs and still handing out the Stanley Cup.
“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,” Bettman said. “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.”
The NHL Players’ Association backed the decision, calling it “an appropriate course of action at this time” and adding: “The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere.”
The NHL is halting play with 189 games left in the season and uncertainty about how many more — if any — could be played before the playoffs, which typically begin in early April. A handful of European hockey leagues have already called off the remainder of their seasons.
“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,” Bettman said. “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.”
Numerous teams set to play road games were already finalizing plans to return home. The NHL preceded its decision by having all 31 teams cancel practices and pre-game skates.
It was difficult to determine what steps teams or players can take in regards to practicing or even working out during the hiatus. For now, Martin Frk’s go-ahead goal 4:41 remaining in the Los Angeles Kings’ 3-2 win over Ottawa will stand as the final tally of the 2019-20 season.
Following St. Louis’ 4-2 win at Anaheim, Blues coach Craig Berube was already wondereing how to prepare for the unscheduled and indefinite time off.
“You can practice as much as you want but without playing games it is difficult,” said Berube, who played 17 seasons in the NHL. “It’s a bigger issue than a hockey game. We have to deal with what we have to. We have to keep ourselves in shape and as sharp as we can if we start up again.”
Former Sabres captain Brian Gionta was supposed to be among the players honored on Friday night as part of Buffalo’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
“I think that’s the least of the worries,” Gionta said. “I think everybody is worried about their families, their loved ones, and the bigger picture in general, and all that other stuff is secondary noise. It’s something we haven’t seen in our lifetime and it’s much bigger than sports.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
Sports in Asia, Europe and now North America have been hit particularly hard by concerns about the virus and the cancellations came with dizzying speed this week The NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 His teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive. Major League Baseball pushed back opening day at least two weeks.
The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1893 with two exceptions: 1919, when the final was canceled after five games because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005, when the season was called off because of a lockout.
The NHL has not said any player has tested positive for COVID-19. The Washington Capitals, who used the same visiting locker room as the Jazz at Madison Square Garden in New York after them, said they “will continue to closely monitor the health of players, coaches and hockey operations staff.”
As late as Wednesday, the NHL did not have a league-wide declaration about limiting fan access to its games. The Columbus Blue Jackets became the first team to take that step, saying their games would go on with attendance and the San Jose Sharks then said their home games in March would go on with empty arenas.
Other hockey competitions are also being called off:
— The NWHL postponed its Isobel Cup final scheduled for Friday night in Boston but did not give a new date.
— A person with direct knowledge of discussions told The Associated Press a recommendation was made to the IIHF to cancel the men’s world championships in Switzerland. The IIHF has already canceled the women’s worlds, which were scheduled to open later this month in Nova Scotia.