A day removed from the NHL’s decision to pause the 2019-20 season in wake of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the league has offered some clarity on the necessary next steps toward the ultimate goal of resuming hockey in short order.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement Friday to TSN discussing said steps, noting that all NHL players have been asked to remain close to their respective team's location — with the re-opening of team facilities standing as a legitimate possibility in the near future.
Here's the full statement from Daly:
“The general expectation is that players will remain in their club’s home cities absent unusual circumstances. Obviously, where a player is separated from his family because his club city residence is only temporary at this point, those players should be permitted to go home to their families in this initial phase of the pause period.
“We envision there coming a time where we transition direction from 'stay at home' to opening club facilities to players to work out and to skate on a voluntary basis in small groups similar to what we generally see prior to the beginning of team training camps. At this point, I'm not in a position to say when that will be. We will see how the next week or so plays out.
“No mandatory testing. If a player exhibits symptoms or becomes sick he will be tested, as appropriate.
“We are recommending against informal skates during this initial phase of the pause. Once we move into the next phase and players is ‘training’ for resumption of play, his activities will be subject to the protections afforded in his SPC.”
TSN's Frank Seravalli reported later on Friday that a memo was issued by the league to all teams and players — noting that athletes should adhere to a self-quarantine period that "should allow us to be in the best position possible to assess next steps regarding the potential resumption of play."
Once the period of self-quarantine is over, the memo did note that players will eventually be allowed to skate in small groups at their team's facilities — while a compressed training camp will likely be necessary if/when the league returns and regular games commence.
All of these measures fall in line with what was to be expected following Thursday's stunning news. But what will be the end result of all this waiting? Given how fluid this ongoing crisis is, it can be tough to tell which route all parties will ultimately opt to take. The ultimate goal is to resume play for the 2019-20 season and rightfully hand off the Stanley Cup this spring/summer.
But how do we get there? Here's a look at some possible scenarios:
Scenario 1: Cancel the remainder of 2019-20 season.
Might as well start with the worst-case scenario, right?
Clearly, no one wants to accept such a fate in which this ongoing health crisis puts an end to the 2019-20 season just ahead of the playoffs — denying a team of the chance to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time since the 2004-05 lockout. Not only would it leave a devastating effect on the league, local economies and much, much more — it'd be a brutal break for a first-place Bruins club that appeared primed for another deep run.
Based on the language issued by the NHL throughout the last couple of days, the priority — and belief — is that the steps taken now and over the coming weeks will help curtail this health crisis and will carve a path toward some normalcy in the near future. But, as we can all attest to, things can change in a hurry when it comes to the COVID-19 crisis.
A month ago, we didn't think such a health crisis was going to do much in terms of slowing down institutions — much less grind professional sports to a halt.
Less than a week ago, we thought that playing in front of empty arenas was going to be a necessary evil in order to keep games rolling along.
And now, here we are.
Hopefully, things are on the upswing. However, if this postponement drags into June and July (with worsening ice conditions and potentially other venue commitments sprouting up), things will get dicey in a hurry.
Scenario 2: Return in time for meaningful regular-season games.