Day 19 without hockey. The NHL pressed pause on its season March 12 and the only thing we really know is that this is not a short hiatus.
The league has held conference calls among the governors and among the general managers. The players association has frequent discussions with players. NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr told The Athletic that he’s on the phone 10 to 12 hours a day.
With coronavirus cases increasing daily in the United States, there is no timetable for when precautions like physical distancing can be lifted. Four NHL players are known to have tested positive for COVID-19 (two on the Senators and two on the Avalanche), and that it’s not yet safe to bring teams together.
The league pushed the players’ self-quarantine (a term the NHL uses, though the players appear to be following something closer to physical distancing guidelines than a strict quarantine) to April 4. But that date will change again.
“That’s a meaningless date really at this point in time,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told a handful of reporters. “As we get closer to this date, we’re going to have to make decisions as to what to do then. But we’re biting this off in chunks.”
What the NHL has done is officially postpone its June events: the prospect combine, the draft and its award show.
The draft will be held, but it won’t be in its original format on June 26 and 27. It could be a virtual draft or maybe a scaled-down version of the same event. The best-case scenario is that the draft in its usual form is held in Montreal later this year, but that seems like a long shot.
Plans for the draft are very much like plans to finish the season right now: entirely theoretical.
Players have been told to work out on their own and stay in shape. But as representatives from each team have participated in broadcasted controlled interviews, many have admitted it’s hard to feel motivated.
They will need time to get ready for game play, especially on the ice and full contact. Some players have home gyms, but very few have home rinks.
The season won’t be able to resume as soon as it’s safe to gather again. Presumably, the longer players stay off the ice, the longer they will need to get back on it.
As of a week ago, it looked like the Stanley Cup Playoffs needed to either be completed before the Olympics started July 24 or start after the Games finished on Aug. 9. NBC has broadcast rights to both events and wouldn’t want them to overlap.
That’s no longer an issue, as the Olympics have been postponed at least a year. The Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t operate on nearly the scale of the Olympics, so they could conceivably go on even though sport’s largest event has been moved. That is, depending on what happens with the pandemic.
When hockey does come back, whether it’s this season or next, things will probably look different.
Fans may not feel safe in large crowds. Many people are taking a financial hit amid mass unemployment. Luxuries like attending a hockey game may be even harder.
The NHL season, like most of life during this pandemic, is wait and see.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at email@example.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.