ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sticks have been put away. Equipment bags have been packed.
The NHL is going away, and there’s no telling when it might come back.
The league suspended its season indefinitely Thursday, approximately 16 hours after the NBA halted play because Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
The NHL Players’ Association said it supported the decision, which has left innumerable questions in its wake and few answers. All practices and team meetings also have been suspended.
What is clear is that the league hopes to hit “play” on this season again. Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement the NHL’s 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.”
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 12, 2020
The Golden Knights were in Minnesota to play the Wild on Thursday when the decision was made. They did not hold their morning skate, per NHL recommendations, while the league prepared its response.
The team flew back to Las Vegas on Thursday night. What the players do next is not immediately clear and may take time to sort out. No announcements on when practices — let alone games — may resume has been made.
“Our message to the players was, ‘Go home for the weekend, take it easy and have as little contact with people as possible,’” Knights owner Bill Foley said. “Next week, we’ll get direction on practices or when they can work out. We’re detoxing the entire locker room at T-Mobile Arena and the entire practice facility at City National Arena. We’re making sure we’re sanitary and taking extra precautions.”
— Robin Lehner (@RobinLehner) March 12, 2020
No Knights players were available for comment Thursday, but coach Pete DeBoer said after Wednesday’s practice the team would support any decision.
“I’m just trusting on the public end that there’s a lot of smart people that are coming up with plans on what’s going to happen with all these situations going forward, and we’re just going to take direction and follow,” DeBoer said. “There’s definitely some trepidation on everybody’s part on what’s going to happen and what the ramifications are. That’s human nature. But I think everyone’s comfortable that there’s a lot of good people coming up with a plan for us here and the public, and we’ll just wait and follow.”
The Knights asked for patience from season ticket holders and fans with tickets to their four remaining regular-season home games.
“We understand circumstances regarding the coronavirus are constantly evolving and very fluid,” the team said in a statement. “The NHL will be providing information regarding the remainder of the regular season, and we will share those updates when appropriate. We are asking fans to hold their tickets while these future schedule plans are being determined by the NHL.”
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) March 12, 2020
The Knights are 39-24-8 and in first place in the Pacific Division with 11 regular-season games left.
The NHL has 189 games remaining, or approximately 15 percent of its schedule. The regular season was scheduled to end April 4, and the playoffs were expected to begin the week of April 6.
It was inevitable that those games would be delayed, at best, as soon as the NBA announced its decision Wednesday. There have been no confirmed coronavirus cases in the NHL, but the leagues are closely connected.
Eleven cities have teams from each league that share arenas. Gobert and the Jazz visited three of those venues recently in New York, Boston and Detroit. They also recently hosted the Toronto Raptors, who share a building with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The NHL’s decision caused the American Hockey League to follow suit Thursday. The Chicago Wolves, the Knights’ minor league affiliate, postponed their final eight regular-season home games and the league suspended play.
.@TheAHL has suspended play immediately and indefinitely. This includes — as previously announced — all of our eight remaining regular-season home games.https://t.co/oFd9Iuo1xq pic.twitter.com/LtiUpAk2SY
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) March 12, 2020
The NHL’s and AHL’s choices follow that of several European leagues to cancel the remainder of their seasons. Two NHL teams — the San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets — were planning to play without fans present until Thursday’s decision.
The season’s suspension could carry immeasurable economic consequences. Teams will lose revenue from tickets, parking and concessions if regular-season games are lost. In-arena staff could lose wages.
Foley said the Knights will “take care of everyone” in regard to tickets and staff.
“If we have to make financial sacrifices, we’ll make it,” Foley said. “We’ll give season tickets a credit or something. There won’t be any layoffs in our hockey operations. I’m viewing this as a two- to three-week transition period until we can evaluate the situation.”
Lost revenue also could affect the escrow withdrawn from players’ salaries and potentially the salary cap for next season.
If play does resume, the Knights wouldn’t have to adjust much. T-Mobile Arena’s summer schedule is light.
One three-day event is scheduled in April, two concerts are scheduled in May and June, and nothing is on the calendar in July. That could make it easier to host extra hockey if regular-season or playoff games take place.
While Bettman still hopes to award the Cup, there is precedent for the NHL canceling its postseason. The 1919 Final was called off because of the Spanish influenza epidemic.
The hope is not to do so again.
“We don’t know the extent of how far this is going to go, and we knew more people are going to be infected,” Foley said. “I think the commissioner did a great job being prudent and saying, ‘Let’s put this on hold for the time being. Let’s not expose fans or players.’ ”
Here is Bettman’s full statement:
“In light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus, and after consulting with medical experts and convening a conference call of the Board of Governors, the National Hockey League is announcing today that it will pause the 2019‑20 season beginning with tonight’s games.
“The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures. However, 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.
“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions — including by self-quarantine, where appropriate. 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. Until then, we thank NHL fans for your patience and hope you stay healthy.”
Here is the NHL Players Association’s full statement:
“The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time.
The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time. pic.twitter.com/ApudNZvurS
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) March 12, 2020
“The NHLPA will continue to closely monitor this very dynamic situation and remain in daily discussions with the league, our medical consultants and our players regarding all aspects of this matter. The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere.”
Here is the Knights’ full initial statement:
“The NHL has announced the decision to pause the 2019-20 season beginning with Thursday night’s games. The NHL’s goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that the league will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup. The health and safety of our members, fans and our community as a whole is a top priority. As more information becomes available, we will share it with you.”