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NHL pauses 2019-2020 season amid coronavirus outbreak

A goal sits on the empty ice prior

A goal sits on the empty ice prior to the Detroit Red Wings playing against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.  Credit: Getty Images/Patrick Smith

CALGARY, Alberta — The NHL season, like almost all sports in North America, is on hold.

The league announced on Thursday that it is suspending its season in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, though it still hopes to resume play and the playoffs “as soon as it is appropriate and prudent.”

The league’s Board of Governors approved the measure during a conference call led by commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday. The AHL, the NHL’s top minor-league affiliate, also suspended its season after the NHL’s announcement.

“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a 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,” the NHL said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon.

When, or if, the NHL will be able to resume play is a giant question that, of course, cannot be immediately answered.

Also to be asked: How long will the NHL be willing to suspend its season in hopes of resuming play? As it is, the Stanley Cup Final typically stretches into the second week of June. Would the NHL be willing to play into July and, if so, would the league then have to push back the start of next season?

For now, NHL teams will not be allowed to practice or meet. Travel for organizational personnel, such as scouts, also has been banned.

The NHL Players Association quickly endorsed the action.

“The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time,” the NHLPA said in a statement. “The NHLPA will continue to closely monitor this very dynamic situation and remain in daily discussions with the league, our medical consultants, and our players regarding all aspects of this matter. The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere.”

It follows the NBA’s decision on Wednesday to suspend its season after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. Gobert’s teammate, Donovan Mitchell,  subsequently also tested positive. The NBA has told its teams its season will be suspended for a minimum of 30 days.

Major League Baseball suspended operations for the next four weeks and MLS also announced on Thursday it was suspending its season.

There will be no March Madness, either. The NCAA announced on Thursday afternoon that it was canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments as well as all remaining winter and spring championships.

That came on the same day that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of 500 or more people in the state.

Earlier Thursday, the NHL told its teams to cancel their morning skates and media availability sessions for the day.

“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,” the NHL’s statement 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.

“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage all 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.”

The Islanders were in Calgary for Thursday night’s scheduled game against the Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. The Rangers had remained in Denver rather than traveling to Glendale, Arizona, after their 3-2 overtime loss to the Avalanche on Wednesday night.

Many NHL teams issued statements supporting the league’s decision, including the Islanders.

“Earlier today, the National Hockey League announced that the 2019-20 regular season has been paused until further notice,” the Islanders said. “The health and safety of our players, fans, staff and the entire Islanders’ family is our top priority. We will continue to stay in touch with medical experts, the NHL office and government officials to monitor the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“All tickets remain valid for postponed games. If any games are canceled, details about refunds and credits will be communicated at that time. Thank you for your patience and flexibility during these unprecedented times.”

In a release on behalf of Madison Square Garden, the Rangers said: “We support Governor Cuomo’s decision and, starting tomorrow night, our New York venues will only host events that adhere to the Governor’s very clear parameters. This is a fluid situation and we will be back with further details when available.”

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