After a call with their board of governors, the NHL has temporarily suspended the 2019-20 season. In a press release, the league explained their decision:
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.
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.
Last night, the NBA took a similar step after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19). The Jazz and several other NBA teams that had recently played them were instructed to self-quarantine, but there are also concerns that it could spread to the NHL given that teams in several cities use the same arenas for both basketball and hockey. Since then another Jazz player, Donovan Mitchell, has also tested positive.
This morning, the league issued a directive to all teams to cancel practices and media availability until a decision was made. That came after the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks had both already announced they would hold home games without spectators. Major League Soccer also suspended their season for 30 days, along with several other college cancellations.
It is important to note that the league has not cancelled, but suspended the season. That means it does plan on resuming at some point, though it is not clear if they will play out the rest of the regular season, move straight into playoffs or some other combination of the two. In fact, with no real understanding of how the next weeks and months will play out, there is no guarantee that the 2019-20 season even does resume.
There is plenty of uncertainty in the entire sporting world, but the NHL obviously felt it could not proceed due to the public health risk. The AHL is expected to follow the NHL’s lead and suspend the minor league season, meaning no high level professional hockey will take place in North America for the time being.
The NHLPA released a statement agreeing with the decision, noting that it is the “appropriate course of action.”