With just under four weeks remaining in the regular season, the NHL has suspended its season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At this time, there is no set plan for the Stanley Cup playoffs, although one potential option would include extending the postseason into July to allow for a full competition.
For now, the focus is on the health and safety of players, staffs, and fans, as the NHL joins other major sports leagues by closing operations. In a statement issued Thursday, the NHL said, "it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time."
The decision to suspend the season came after the NBA took the same course of action following the positive test of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Later, Gobert's teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive for the coronavirus.
The NHL had been preparing to suspend all operations Thursday morning when it told teams not to hold morning skates or team activities. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he'd personally come to the conclusion that a stoppage was needed on Wednesday evening, but he wanted to confer with the board of governors before confirming the pause.
"We were constantly evolving our strategy about our teams playing or not playing," Bettman said. "But last night, when the NBA had a positive test, and they had to cancel a game at that moment, it was clear to me – and through all of our calculus, we knew – that once a player tested positive it would be a game-changer. I decided to get ahead of it."
Higher Risk Due To Close Proximity To NBA
While it's highly likely the NHL would have suspended operations anyway, the league had more incentive to halt their season because many NHL teams share arenas and locker rooms with NBA teams.
"In all likelihood, we weren't going to get through the rest of the season without a player testing positive," Bettman said, "particularly because the Utah Jazz had used locker rooms within 24 hours of our teams using the same locker rooms in buildings that we share with the NBA."
Since the beginning of March, the Jazz have played in arenas shared with an NHL team in Detroit, New York, and Boston. Additionally, the Jazz played the Raptors, who share an arena with the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
The Tampa Bay Lightning also followed the Jazz in two arenas last weekend.
However, Bettman said he has no knowledge of an NHL player testing positive or being monitored for the coronavirus as of Thursday.
NHL Players, Coaches Voice Opinions
In an official statement, the NHL players' union said, "The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time."
That sentiment has largely been echoed throughout the sport by players and coaches. "In a time like this, it is important we continue to listen to experts whose job it is to maintain the safety and well-being of the population until the issue stabilizes," said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron.
"Public health and safety are a priority at a time like this," said Edmonton captain Connor McDavid. "As players, we support the NHL and NHLPA's decision to suspend the season for the safety of the teams and their fans."
St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube added his concern about returning to the ice. "You can practice as much as you want, but without playing games, it is difficult," Berube said. "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."
Berube's Blues are currently tied with the Golden Knights with the fourth-best odds of winning the Stanley Cup. The +600 Bruins hold a slight edge over the +700 Lightning and the +850 Avalanche.