Don’t count on hockey being played early.
NHL has significantly scaled back its timeline to when it can potentially resume playing for several weeks, if not a month or more, following the new coronavirus pandemic.
The league and the NHL Players’ Association told players on Monday that they can return home – even outside of North America – and must self-isolate until March 27 while the season is pending. But the NHL also warned that it will not be able to give indications of the potential reopening of team practices for another 45 days, which could push any potential return to play in May.
The new directives follow the CDC’s recommendation for gatherings of 50 or more people in the United States for the next eight weeks. NHL said that “depending on world developments”, consideration will be given to reopening facilities after the end of the self-quarantine period in late March, but practices for the 31 teams would not occur at the end of April – soon.
“I think in light of the CDC’s recommendations, it’s hard to predict that we’re looking at many events here in March or even April, in my opinion,” said NHL player agent Jay Grossman.
This is a big move from Friday, when the league gave players the opportunity to return to the team’s facilities and train and skate in small groups.
The latest decision leaves open questions about whether NHL can complete its regular season, which was suspended Thursday with 189 games left, and whether it might be necessary to change its playoff format to prevent the postseason from going into the summer months. .
Last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he remained optimistic about the resumption of the game and the concession of the Stanley Cup, which has been delivered every year since 1893 except for 1919 due to the Spanish flu epidemic and the 2005 when a blockade canceled the whole season.
Although NHL followed the NHB’s lead in suspending its season, Bettman declined to set a time frame on how long the “break” would last. Last week NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said his league break will likely last at least a month.
“The pause will be until it is appropriate, prudent and safe to start the backup,” said Bettman. “Nobody knows how long the break can be. Nobody, not even the medical community, can predict it with certainty.”
Bettman, the executive director of NHL and NHLPA, Don Fehr, each stated that they were not aware of positive results for the coronavirus.
Arizona defender Coyotes Aaron Ness became the first publicly known NHL player to be tested for COVID-19 on Monday. Ness’s agent, Neil Sheehy, said the results turned negative after his client followed NHL guidelines to look for tests for flu-like symptoms.
The NBA released a statement on Wednesday saying it would suspend the season until further notice after a Utah Jazz player has tested positive for coronavirus.
“He never thought he would have it initially, to be honest,” said Sheehy. “What happened was that the championship was saying if you have a sore throat, if you have a runny nose, if you have a cough, call the coach and don’t come on the track, and so he did.”
The new NHL directive to allow players to return home has led players and coaches to make plans to travel.
In Buffalo, New York, Sabers striker Marcus Johansson initially hoped to return home to Sweden on a flight from nearby Toronto. These plans changed when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the country was closing its borders except for Canadians and Americans, also imposing a 14-day self-quarantine on those entering the country.
Johansson was attempting to book a return flight to New York City.
The organization said Thursday that it is canceling tournaments due to the “evolution of the COVID-19 threat to public health”.
In an email to The AP, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there was little that the league could do with travel restrictions.
“It’s a consequence of where we are. Nobody is to blame,” Daly wrote.
The U.S. government has imposed a travel ban on non-citizens from Europe that runs until mid-April. There are currently 233 European players on the NHL lists, including scorer Leon Draisaitl from Germany, and there are under contract for minors. How many could go home is unknown.
“I’ve talked to some players who are doing their best to climb obviously to return to the safest and most comfortable environment they can reach at this point,” said Grossman.
Map: look at Coronavirus cases around the world
Meanwhile, the American Hockey League has followed NHL in a decision taken on Monday by its executive committee. The 31-team league has announced that the indefinite suspension of its regular season will not be lifted before May and also recommended that its teams work to return the players to their main homes.
Abroad, the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League paused for a week during its playoffs to determine a new format and schedule for the six remaining teams. The decision came after the Finnish Jokerit and Barys Nur-Sultan, based in Kazakhstan, withdrew from the playoffs amid the pandemic.