NHL Joins NBA in Suspending Season Amid Coronavirus Threat
Last Thursday, just one week ago, the Flyers were coming off a win over the Washington Capitals that moved them to within one point of the division lead and had a game with the Carolina Hurricanes on home ice. They won that game, 4-1, and it was business as usual.
But things started to change as the next seven days progressed. There were no changes to game procedures when they faced the Sabres on Saturday, but there were rumors that new media guidelines were being issued. Those went into effect on Monday, and we saw first-hand on Tuesday the earliest methods to try to protect players from the Coronavirus crisis that was sweeping the entire globe.
The biggest shoe to drop came on a wild Wednesday in the sports world. The NCAA announced that March Madness would be played without fans attending in the arena. Two NHL teams -- the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks -- also announced that remaining home games would be played in empty arenas. Then the NBA had their first player case of Coronavirus and subsequently suspended play indefinitely, putting all other major sports leagues on notice.
As of Wednesday night, the NHL made known they were aware of the situation, but were not yet suspending play, presumably to take all options into consideration one last time. The reality is there was no other option. So on Thursday, the NHL joined the NBA in suspending league play until further notice.
The league is expected to monitor the situation day-by-day and to re-evaluate the situation fully in two weeks with hopes on resuming play as soon as possible to complete the regular season and go forward with the playoffs.
“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," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
“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.”
For the Flyers, the announcement came after traveling to Tampa Bay on Wednesday ahead of their scheduled game against the Lightning on Thursday night. That game and the other 12 remaining on the regular season schedule are all in question at this time.
It would not have been surprising for the Flyers to have at least joined the other two teams in the league that were playing in front of empty arenas by the weekend, with three home games on the schedule in the next six days. When the news quickly circulated around the NBA and the rest of the sports world of the reason for the postponement of the Oklahoma City Thunder-Utah Jazz game, it quickly shifted the possibility to just outright cutting off all major sports. The two major winter leagues have done it, and there’s no reason that Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the NCAA won’t follow suit in the coming days as well. It is very possible that we will be living in a sports-free world in another 24 to 48 hours as this global pandemic reaches new heights.
For the Flyers, this announcement comes with some good and bad news. On one hand, should the season continue in the next few weeks or months, they would have more time for injured players to recover. The team lost James van Riemsdyk, Phil Myers and Nate Thompson to injury over the last four games, each for several weeks.
On the other hand, this news comes during a time when the Flyers were the most relevant team and hottest ticket in the city. They were still just one point out of first place in the Metro with 13 games remaining in the regular season entering Thursday’s scheduled play.
Obviously, the health of players, coaches, front office members and, of course, fans is far greater than playing the games, so this action was realistically a matter of time. As with the other leagues making this critical decision or still mulling it over, a short-term hiatus from games for the longevity of the league and sport will be worth it in the long run.
For now, everyone will have to sit and wait, adjusting to what is going to be the new normal for now.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.