The NHL season has been temporarily brought to its knees because of the coronavirus.

After Utah Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were found to have contracted the virus, NHL officials began to scramble to determine what type of action, if any, was needed for the hockey world.  After all, the NBA had already decided to bring the season to an end yesterday, which is a strong indication of how severely COVID-19 is impacting sports.

NHL Suspends Regular Season

When NHL leaders realized that teams shared a lot of the same locations, and even locker rooms, with NBA teams, the decision basically wrote itself.  NHL action, with just four weeks remaining in the regular season, would have to be postponed.

In a statement announcing the suspension of the remaining 189 games, the NHL explained, “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.”

NHL Players Association Support

The NHL Players Association didn’t have a problem supporting the suspension.  It issued its own statement, calling the move the “appropriate course of action” and hoping players will be able to return to the ice as soon as possible.

In the US, there have been 1,300 reported cases of coronavirus across the country as of Thursday morning; around the world, there are 127,000 confirmed cases and 4,700 deaths (in addition to 38 in the US).  While this number is relatively tame compared to death rates associated with other viruses, the fatality rate associated with COVID-19 is much higher.

In addition, over time, people build up natural immunities to “traditional” viruses like influenza.  However, there is no natural immunity to the coronavirus.  As a result, an abundance of precaution can help keep the number of deaths to a minimum.

Although the NHL suspends games at the moment, the NHL is certainly not ready to call it quits on the season and wants to be able to complete the season as originally planned.  However, player and fan safety and health are first, especially since the Stanley Cup can be won at any time.

The NHL hasn’t had to shorten a season since 2012-13, and that was because of a work stoppage.  Before that, it was 1919 when the league was forced to bring a halt to the Stanley Cup Final in the middle of the competition between the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans because of the Spanish Flu pandemic.  Around 675,000 Americans died during the disease’s run from 1918-1919.

How things proceed in the NHL, as well as all major sports leagues, once the suspension is lifted isn’t clear.  The season could be shortened, or it could be carried through as if there had not been any downtime.  Ideally, there’s no reason for the leagues to cut things short – let the teams carry on with their business.

There are, of course, a lot of moving parts that have to be considered (broadcasting rights, rink usage rights, NHL trade regulations, etc.), but every problem has a solution.  This is a unique situation that has never been seen before, at least not on this scale, and it requires a completely unique resolution.  No standard rulebook can be used to overcome this catastrophe.  Rebounding from this is not going to be easy for anyone; however, resilient teams and fans will make sure everything returns to normal as quickly as possible.