The good – the coronavirus hasn’t yet forced all sports leagues to halt operations. The bad – the coronavirus is forcing all sports leagues to curtail the fan experience. The ugly – if things get worse due to the coronavirus, the salary cap increases already put on the books for NHL players beginning next season may have to be scrapped, and that could lead to a lockout.
Leafs Lead Coronavirus NHL Lockout
The Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t taking any chances and have refused to allow their scouts to travel to games because of the coronavirus. Some exceptions are being made, as certain scouts are able to make it to closer games by car, but air travel is off the table. The team had already called off travel for its Europe-based scouts a few weeks ago, and now extended it to cover scouts in North America. NHL doesn’t have a travel policy of its own yet, preferring to tell teams to “use their best judgment.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins could use some help. They lost back-to-back games this past weekend by a combined score of 11-4 and, fortunately, pulled off a victory against the New Jersey Devils yesterday, but the team is getting weak. Goalies Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are now looking at a combined save percentage of just .854 and forward Jared McCann hasn’t scored in 21 games. If you ask the team’s GM, Jim Rutherford, though, he’ll tell you the Penguins are “just fine.” Perhaps his dictionary has a different definition of that word.
The Arizona Coyotes are three points out of having a playoff spot, but the team isn’t showing that its hungry to make it to the postseason. When Arizona took on the Winnipeg Jets this week, the team broke out to a 2-0 lead before ultimately losing 4-2. That allowed the Jets to earn the first Wild Card spot that was up for grabs, and the Coyotes are going to have to fight harder now if they want to make a run on the Stanley Cup. It could also be why the team put Aaron Ness out on waivers. There are 12 games remaining in the regular season and, of these, only four teams are ranked lower than the Coyotes.
A couple of pro sports contests have already stated that they will keep fans out of the stands because of the coronavirus. For hockey fans, though, everything looks to be ready to move forward as usual, and both the Coyotes and the Columbus Blue Jackets have said that they have no plans to keep their respective arenas clear. The Blue Jackets could have come under the order of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, which prevents all indoor events be held without spectators, but the team is going to go against his wishes.
What About Stanley Cup?
Talk is once again surfacing about how the Stanley Cup playoffs are organized. According to Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, “I think you could certainly make the case for it. I mean, going back to when there were 21 teams, 16 made the playoffs. Now we’re growing to 32, and there’s still 16 teams. So, it’s certainly a high bar now to get in.” As has been the case every time this has come up in the past, NHL brass brushes it off and asserts that the idea doesn’t have widespread support. More than the GM of a team on the edge of a losing record would have to be vocal in order to try to make major changes regarding the playoffs.
Should the coronavirus have a major impact on the NHL, revenue could potentially plummet. Since the league just discussed increasing salary caps to between $84-$88 million, up from the current $81.5 million, there is now talk that, in the worst-case scenario, that increase might have to be pulled. Were that to happen, players won’t be too happy, and it might lead to a strike. It’s too early to start expecting the worst-case scenario, but it has to at least be on the hockey radar.