NHL follows suit, suspends 2019-20 season amid coronavirus outbreak

Madison Square Garden Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

Following discussions through the night and into Thursday afternoon, the NHL announced that it will put its 2019-20 season on hold.

“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,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “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.”

There has not been an official timetable for the suspension nor a possible plan on how to resume play revealed as of yet.

“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,” Bettman said.

A source speculated to ESPN’s Greg Wyshinski that a best-case scenario would be a “two-to-three week suspension, a short continuation of a sub-82-game regular season and then a truncated playoff with shorter opening series. But playing into July is an option.”

It’s the third major North American sports leagues to suspend its season — the decision coming after the NBA stopped play when Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, and later guard Donovan Mitchell, tested positive for COVID-19. Major League Soccer suspended its 2020 season — which was only two weeks old — on Thursday morning.

Considering the NBA and NHL share several arenas — 11 in total — suspending hockey’s regular season was the next logical move.

“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 and continue to play games at this time,” Bettman added.

Shortly before the official announcement, ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that on-ice officials that were set to work NHL games on Thursday night were instructed to book flights home. 

NHL teams on the road were kept in a holding pattern on whether to continue their trips or held home.

An initial avenue that most professional leagues were considering was playing their remaining games without fans in attendance — something that has been done in Europe and was the next course of action for NCAA postseason basketball tournaments before mass cancellations of their postseason conference tournaments.

The San Jose Sharks were amongst the first major teams in North America affected following the coronavirus outbreak in Santa Clara County. California enacted a ban on public gatherings of more than 1,000 people for three weeks, meaning the team would have either played their three home games during that time frame in front of no fans or move them away from their hope at the SAP Center.