NHL announces season on 'pause'
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
March 12, 2020, 1:31 PM
So utterly unprecedented are the times we find ourselves in, so beyond the reality most of us could have comprehended mere days ago, that when it came time for the NHL to suspend its season it was no surprise at all.
In fact, it seemed like the only reasonable path forward with the spread of coronavirus pandemic already observed in parts of Europe and Asia now taking hold in North America.
Thursday’s announcement from the NHL came about 16 hours after the NBA suspended its own season. It came after the cancellation of playoffs in seven European hockey leagues, and world championships in women’s hockey and figure skating, and the prestigious Indian Wells tennis tournament, among several other events that see a large number of people gather to be entertained.
Somewhere in the midst of that avalanche of bad news it became painfully clear the NHL would be left with no choice but to take its own hiatus less than four weeks from the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This is bigger than any sporting concern, or any business, and where we go from here is unclear.
There is still some hope — faint as it may be — that some portion of the season or playoffs can be salvaged even if it means playing games into July. That’s the best-case scenario now and it will be entirely dependent on the spread of COVID-19.
Even if that happens, there will be a negative impact on everything from the amount of escrow paid by players to the salary cap the league operates under next season, but neither of those things trump public safety in the face of a global pandemic.
The day where the sports world fell quiet began with many NHL players reporting to the rink for their usual game-day routines before quickly being sent home. That included members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, some of whom told security personnel “see you in a couple
weeks” on their way out of Scotiabank Arena.
At least one road team began making travel plans home in the afternoon before its Thursday evening game was even officially cancelled.
The league was stopped with 1,082 of 1,271 regular-season games in the books — slightly more than 85 per cent of the schedule.
Boston sat on top of the standings, Leon Draisaitl at the top of the scoring chart and four Canadian-based teams officially held playoff positions for a campaign that may never be completed.
The only time that’s happened was 1918-19, when the Stanley Cup between Montreal and Seattle was cancelled after five games because of a Spanish flu breakout.
There aren’t yet any confirmed coronavirus cases among NHL players or team staff — unlike in the NBA, where Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz have each turned up positive tests — but some are likely to emerge given the overlap between the two leagues
and the spread of the virus across the general population.
That’s ultimately why the league decided it needed to shut down immediately.
Even the potential of playing in front of empty arenas — just as Pittsburgh and Columbus were initially scheduled to do Thursday — didn’t amount to a strong enough safeguard.
Everyone’s health is at risk and some things are more important than hockey.