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Kingerski: Reaction to Canadian Pullout Casts Doubt on NHL Season



There are plans and competing plans, hopes, and maybe pipe dreams of restarting the NHL season sooner than later. Player discussions last week centered on resuming the regular season in July, with playoffs in August and September, then a delay to the 2020-21 season. Optimism and hope spread that there is light at the end of the COVID-19 coronavirus tunnel. We could indeed see the Pittsburgh Penguins finish this unique and wild campaign.

However, Sunday was the equivalent of an ice bucket over the head.

The Canadian Olympic Committee demanded the IOC postpone the 2020 Olympics in Japan, or Canada will not send its athletes to the Olympics or Paralympic Games. The games are not scheduled until July 24.

If you’re not good at math, that’s four months from now.

The International Olympic Committee has announced a decision within four weeks but is holding hope the world will have the coronavirus under control to allow the games to be played. On Sunday, the IOC said cancellation is not on the agenda.

Japan has flattened the curve of the virus, and cases have ceased to spike. Japan has only 943 cases of the infection, including cruise ship passengers from the Diamond Princess, on which 712 passengers contracted the sickness.

However, the feeling which puts the NHL season in jeopardy was the response from the Canadian athletes, which hailed the move by the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Canadian athletes praised the move. 

“Leading the world. Very proud of Canada this evening,” tweeted hockey 2019 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Hayley Wickenheiser.

Praise by Canadian athletes for the decision was swift. Dissent or pause was challenging to find, which leads us to the NHL. Cases in the United States are still rapidly climbing. Sunday, the United States passed Spain for the third most cases in the world behind Italy and China. Even as US lawmakers scramble to find a bipartisan bill to provide relief to US workers and companies which are being shuttered by the state government forced closures.

Cases in the United States topped 35,000 with 473 deaths, as of Monday morning. Partially because the virus is spreading, and partly because there has been a flood of tests available which were previously not, cases in the US spiked ten-fold over the past seven days from just over 3,000.

Drive-thru testing is now available in the Pittsburgh Zoo parking lot.

If Canadian athletes are praising the move to pull out of the Olympics four months from now, in a country that has seemingly contained the coronavirus, it casts significant doubt on the NHL’s ability to restart the season.

Perhaps we’ll quickly prove the medicinal cocktail, which includes drugs used to treat Malaria are effective. French researchers made that claim on Sunday. And there is no shortage of credible, but anecdotal stories, including from actor Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-0, Lost).

So, we have a battle. Is it leading the world to pull out of an event four months in the future, or is it premature? Count me as believing it premature, but the praise of athletes and the fear of all involved is not trivial. We may yet get ahead of this pandemic, but it will require a coordinated effort from citizens more than government force to get there.

Let’s sit at home for a little while longer. Let’s hope our “leaders” stop playing politics with the economic stimulus bill (sentence written as to offend or not offend both sides) and let’s hope we get a handle on this. We can save the NHL season. We can save MLB and the Olympics. The world is working on cures and vaccines, and to the winner of that race will go Billions, maybe trillions, of dollars.

We can’t save the leagues with continued stupid behavior such as lack of social distancing and spring break parties. Nor will they be saved with presumptive fear about the future.

Canada was wrong to publicly pull out, now. A little hope and a little incentivization would go a long way, right now. Praise for the action makes me think everyone is ready to wipe the slate clean, lift the suspensions, and cancel everything. I’m not there, but I feel a growing popular sentiment in that direction. And that’s why I think the NHL season is in real doubt.

Give it another month, maybe two before drastic cancelations. If you and I do the right things, perhaps we can salvage many things from this extraordinary coronavirus mess.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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2 years ago

Obviously I am and have been a long time hockey fan. I miss it in a big way. But I cannot put that concern anywhere near the same sentence that involves the virus. The Canadians are ahead of the rest of the world. Postpone the Olympics . .. indefinitely with a revaluation on 9/1/2020. Look . .. we can fool ourselves all we want but I cannot see how anything material in “life today” changes very much before July 1. Even if the experts are correct and infections “peak” in two weeks (April 6) it will be another 3 weeks… Read more »

2 years ago

You have missed the most important part of this story. The Canadians say that in the current situation, they cannot hold the Olympic trials in time to choose a team. This is not an issue with the NHL.

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