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NHL pauses season amid coronavirus pandemic

The league follows the NBA’s example by suspending play, with hope of eventually resuming the season.
An empty Amalie Arena is seen Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Tampa. The National Hockey League announced Thursday that due to the recent coronavirus pandemic it would put the NHL season "on pause." [CHRIS URSO      |  Times]
An empty Amalie Arena is seen Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Tampa. The National Hockey League announced Thursday that due to the recent coronavirus pandemic it would put the NHL season "on pause." [CHRIS URSO | Times]

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With an eye toward still awarding the Stanley Cup this year, the NHL on Thursday said it would “pause” the season indefinitely because of the coronavirus.

“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,” the league said in a statement.

The league suspended play the day after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic and the NBA became the first major North American pro league to shut down over the virus, technically known as COVID-19, after a player with the Utah Jazz tested positive for it.

Related: March Madness and other college events have been canceled

The two leagues share 11 buildings, which influenced the NHL’s decision. The NHL by Thursday did not have a known case of COVID-19.

“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,” the NHL’s statement said.

The Lightning followed the Jazz to Boston and Detroit last weekend. NBA and NHL visitors share some of the same locker room space in Boston’s TD Garden, but they have separate spaces in Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena.

The locker rooms are deep cleaned and sanitized between games. Having had no actual contact with an infected person, the Lightning said in a statement, the risk of anyone with the organization contracting the virus is low, no greater than that of the general population. No Lightning personnel had shown symptoms by Thursday, so the team was not subject to being tested, it said. The medical staff communicated with the players.

“It’s scary, though,” said Alex Killorn, the Lightning’s Players Association representative.

Amalie Arena is seen empty ahead of what was supposed to be a game night on Thursday. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

Players showed up at Amalie Arena on Thursday morning preparing to play the Flyers that night, one of the 12 regular-season games remaining on the Lightning’s schedule. They went through their usual morning meetings until the league advised teams send players home.

“We were told we were supposed to leave the rink,” Killorn said. “Obviously there were talks in the locker room, trying to figure out what was going on, just rumors. But nothing was concrete until we were told to leave the arena and wait for further notice.”

Players around the league were sent home or back to their hotels. Gear was packed and left in trollies, stuck between going to planes or locker rooms.

“We haven’t been told what’s going to happen, if we’re going to have workouts,” Killorn said. “We’ve been told to go home and we’re going to hear sooner rather than later what the next steps are.”

If the season suspension turns out to be short, perhaps a couple of weeks, the league might pick up the season in April. It could truncate the regular season and then start the playoffs.

If that were the case, the league would likely use points percentage to even the field. Teams have between 11 and 14 games left to play, accounting for about 15 percent of the season.

Right now, such a system would put the Lightning second in the Atlantic Division and playing the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. The Rangers, Islanders, Panthers, Predators and Wild would be out of the playoffs by two points or fewer.

Related: MLB suspends Spring Training and delays the start of the season

Canadian sports TV network TSN reported that the NHL had asked for teams’ building availability through the end of July. That wouldn’t be ideal but could be an option for a league with a relatively smaller TV deal and a larger dependency on ticket and related revenue.

Only twice has the Stanley Cup not been awarded: in 1917, because of the Spanish flu and in 2005 due to the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

The Lightning didn’t have updates on ticket information. General manager Julien BriseBois was not available to speak about the day’s developments.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

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PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

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