On ice: NHL ‘pausing’ season amid coronavirus pandemic

The NHL is placing its season on ice – for now.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league will “pause” its season, effective immediately, because of the coronavirus pandemic. The move came one day after the NBA suspended play after a player tested positive Wednesday for COVID-19.

“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,” Bettman said. “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.”

The NHL Players’ Association backed the decision, calling it “an appropriate course of action at this time” and adding: “The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere.”

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The NHL is halting play with 189 games left in the season and uncertainty about how many more – if any – could be played before the playoffs, which typically begin in early April. A handful of European hockey leagues have already called off the remainder of their seasons.

“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,” Bettman said. “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.”

Numerous teams set to play road games were already finalizing plans to return home. The NHL preceded its decision by having all 31 teams cancel practices and pre-game skates. There were 10 games scheduled for Thursday night.

It was difficult to determine what steps teams or players can take in regards to practicing or even working out during the hiatus. For now, Martin Frk’s go-ahead goal 4:41 remaining in the Los Angeles Kings’ 3-2 win over Ottawa will stand as the final tally of the 2019-20 season.

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The Stanley Cup has been awarded every year since 1893 with two exceptions: 1919, when the final was canceled after five games because of the Spanish flu outbreak, and 2005, when the season was called off because of a lockout.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

The timing of the NHL’s decision follows a long series of disruptions across Asia, Europe and North America as sports competition is curtailed or shelved because of concerns about the virus.

The NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 His teammate, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive.

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The NHL has not said any player has tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, the NHL did not have a leaguewide declaration about even potentially holding games in arenas without fans in the stands. The Columbus Blue Jackets became the first team to take that step, saying their games would go on with attendance “limited to home and visiting club personnel, credentialed media and broadcast partners, essential club and arena staff and NHL officials.” The San Jose Sharks then said their home games in March would go on without fans.

Other hockey competitions are also being called off:

— The NWHL postponed its Isobel Cup final scheduled for Friday night in Boston but did not give a new date.

— A person with direct knowledge of discussions told The Associated Press a recommendation was made to the IIHF to cancel the men’s world championships in Switzerland. The IIHF has already canceled the women’s worlds, which were scheduled to open later this month in Nova Scotia.