The NHL is the latest major sports organization to announce it will suspend its 2019-20 season indefinitely as concerns grow over the coronavirus.
In a statement from commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday, the league revealed its plans to pause the 2019-20 campaign after conferring among the sport's leaders and with medical experts. The statement also iterates that the NHL ultimately wants to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.
Hours before the news of the season halting broke, TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported on-ice officials who were working road games were told to schedule flights to return home.
Emily Kaplan of ESPN reported the NHL hopes to resume its schedule sometime this spring. However, it's unclear what the timeline will be in light of how rapidly COVID-19 is altering plans across the sports landscape.
Among the major sports organizations, the NHL followed in the footsteps of the NBA and NCAA basketball. Wednesday night marked the suspension of the NBA's season, and on Thursday, the NCAA canceled college basketball conference tournaments.
The NCAA rewarded the top seeds with conference tournament trophies, but neither the NBA nor the NHL has made a determination on what to do regarding their upcoming playoffs. Both of their regular seasons are near an end, yet it may be a matter of weeks — or perhaps months — before it's even safe to go to the arenas again.
It's possible that whenever the NHL does return to action, the schedule will go straight to the playoffs with the standings and postseason seeds as they currently are. Another potential option is to award the Boston Bruins with the Stanley Cup, since they're the leaders in the clubhouse for the Presidents' Trophy with 100 points.
Considering the fluidity of the situation, it feels reckless and even unimportant to speculate as to when pro hockey will resume or what playoff protocols will be. What's important is public safety, and the NHL is taking the maximum precautions to help the cause.
The coronavirus may prevent a true, traditional Stanley Cup champion from being crowned. If it comes in the name of prioritizing the health of the NHL's members and fans alike, so be it.
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