It is likely that the NHL will follow yesterday’s lead by the NBA and suspend the regular season this afternoon. The NHL is meeting at 1pm today to discuss options. At a minimum, teams will play with no fans. Ohio has banned any “mass gatherings,” which will impact tonight’s Columbus Blue Jackets game. The more realistic outcomes is a suspension of action, effective immediately.
The NHL could simply play in front of empty crowds, but there is an implicit pressure to suspend now that their profession league partners, the National Basketball Association, which shares the same arenas in most major cities, has issued their suspension.
The real issue will be when play will resume. The COVID-19 pandemic is unlikely to regress over the next several weeks or months. Rather, it will continue to propagate. In the last month alone, the virus has spread from 11,000 people worldwide to over 110,000. Deaths have reached over 4,000 people. That number will surely grow exponentially in the coming weeks.
We are navigating through uncharted territory. As Mark Cuban said yesterday following the NBA’s announcement, he said this: “This is a pandemic, a global pandemic where people’s lives are at stake. I’m a lot more worried about my kids and my mom who is 82 years old — in talking to her and telling her to stay in the house — than when we play in our next game.”
The impact for professional sports is massive. For the NHL, it is possible that the 2019-20 Stanley Cup playoffs are suspended until fall 2020. Also a possibility: the 2020-21 season could be cancelled. These idea may seem remote and absurd, but without a vaccine, the virus isn’t going away. CNN reported this morning that COVID-19 could turn into a seasonal virus much like the flu, requiring people to get updated antiviral vaccines. Until we have those, travel, gatherings, and even schools will be affected.
Stay tuned. Stay safe.