NHL decides to ‘pause’ regular season due to coronavirus

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The NHL decided to “pause” the 2019-20 regular season as the coronavirus (COVID19) outbreak continues.

NHL, NHLPA release statements explaining that the 2019-20 season will be put on pause

Here is the official statement from 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 NHLPA backed that up, calling this “an appropriate course of action at this time.”

Things moved quickly after the NBA instituted a similar pause on Wednesday

The league made this announcement on Thursday after the NBA decided to suspend its own season on Wednesday. Initially, it looked like teams would play in arenas without fans (starting with the Blue Jackets and Sharks). Instead, they’re hitting the pause button.

At this time, it’s unclear when the NHL season may resume. It’s possible that the NHL would jump right to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs after things are no longer on hold, and there’s also a scenario where the Stanley Cup isn’t awarded at all for the 2019-20 season. Would play resume, but still not for fans?

Plenty of questions swirl around the season being suspended. Could this process disrupt the 2020 NHL Draft and/or combine and other activities? Pierre LeBrun speculated on TSN that a draft could theoretically be held via telephone.

Long story short, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. One thing we know for sure, though, is that the NHL did indeed put its 2019-20 season on hold in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus pandemic gives NHL little choice but to put season on hold

As you can see from NBC News’ live updates, the World Health Organization called the coronavirus a pandemic for the first time on Wednesday. At least 1,000 people have been infected in the U.S., with the latest count being that 33 people died in the U.S. Recent U.S. measures include a 30-day travel ban for much of Europe.

As painful as it might be for so many events to go on hold, the NHL and other bodies are likely making the right call. In a piece for The Atlantic, Yasha Mounk explained that social distancing is “the only way to stop the coronavirus.”

Before China canceled all public gatherings, asked most citizens to self-quarantine, and sealed off the most heavily affected region, the virus was spreading in exponential fashion. Once the government imposed social distancing, the number of new cases leveled off; now, at least according to official statistics, every day brings more news of existing patients who are healed than of patients who are newly infected.

TSN’s Frank Seravalli provided a preliminary (but in-depth) look at how this all might affect the NHL’s bottom line, from short and long-term salary cap implications to questions about insurance. There’s no denying that this is an uncomfortable disruption for the NHL and its fans, but it’s likely the best choice in the interest of public health.

Of course, PHT will provide more updates and analysis as this situation evolves.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.