The NHL is pushing back the possibility of resuming its season for several weeks, if not a month or more.
The league and NHL Players' Association told players Monday they can go home — even out of North America — and must self-isolate through March 27 while the season is on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the NHL also cautioned that it will not be able to even provide guidance on the potential reopening of team practices for another 45 days, which could make May the earliest possible restart date.
The new directives come on the heels of the CDC's recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S. for the next eight weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the NHL's new timeline, it would mean facilities would not be opened until late April at the earliest.
“I think in light of the CDC recommendations, it's hard to foresee that we're looking at much happening here in March or even April, in my opinion,” agent Jay Grossman said.
The league said “depending on world developments," consideration will be given to reopening practice facilities after the self-quarantine period ends in late March.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last week said his league's hiatus would likely last at least a month. After saying last week the season was on “pause,” Commissioner Gary Bettman had not put a time frame on when the NHL could resume play.
“The pause will be until it’s appropriate and prudent and safe to start back up,” Bettman said last week. “Nobody knows how long the hiatus may be. Nobody, even the medical community, can predict it with certainty. And what we’re doing is, we’re modeling every conceivable alternative so that when it’s appropriate to go back to work, we will know what our options and our alternatives are.”
The U.S. government has imposed a travel ban from Europe for non-citizens that extends until mid-April. There are currently 233 European players on NHL rosters, including leading scorer Leon Draisaitl from Germany, and there are more on contracts who are in the minors. How many might return home is unknown.
“I've spoken to some players who are doing their best to obviously scramble to return to the safest, most comfortable environment that they can get to at this point,” Grossman said.
Players previously were directed to stay in their team's city and wait. The league and union had discussed the possibility of players returning to team training facilities within the next week or so, but that plan has similarly changed. Those facilities are currently closed to players.
“We'll be constantly in touch with the NHL and constantly re-evaluating,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said last week. "Any date you pick out is merely going to be a best guess and it has about as much likelihood of being right as any other best guess."
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The AP teams had been instructed to take care of arrangements for and pay players under contract. That was in light of the minor league ECHL's decision to cancel the rest of its season.
The NHL suspended its season with 189 games remaining before the playoffs. Bettman said he remained optimistic about resuming and still awarding the Stanley Cup, which has only not been handed out twice since 1893: 1919 during the Spanish flu outbreak and 2005 because of a lockout.