After consulting with medical professionals, the National Hockey League has followed the NBA and suspended the NHL season indefinitely. As part of the league’s due diligence, teams have been asked to submit arena availability through late July, as the league hopes to restart its season when safe to do so.
A late summer Stanley Cup series could mean a delay to next season, but the situation remains fluid.
The NBA suspended its season on Wednesday evening after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive. It should be noted, Gobert was in good condition and was prepared to play Wednesday evening. However, a Utah teammate has also been diagnosed with the virus and the contamination fears spread quickly.
THE NHL STATEMENT FROM COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN:
“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.”
The NHL season already stretches the bounds of most arenas to make playable ice by playing into June. A longer delay could mean the full cancellation of the season or some creative measures will need to be enacted for hockey’s already short offseason.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are currently in third place of the Metro Division. The team won its 40th game on Tuesday night in New Jersey with a 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. The Penguins were to play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday in Columbus. After initially refusing calls to remove fans, Columbus acquiesced and banned all non-essential personnel including fans.
This isn’t the first time a virus has halted the NHL season. The league canceled the 1919 Stanley Cup Final between Montreal and Seattle after five games due to the Spanish Flu outbreak. It is estimated that 27% of the world population contracted the Spanish Flu and the death toll is estimated between 15 million to 50 million people.
Currently, fears are spreading. It was announced last week that NCAA Tournament games at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland would be played without fans. After a crew member of the McLaren F1 team tested positive, McLaren pulled out of the Australian GP this weekend and speculation is rampant the event will be canceled, too.
Thursday afternoon, Major League Baseball also suspended all operations.