If you were trapped in the NHL bubble Thursday or lost in the seemingly unending flurry of postponements and cancellations, there’s a piece of important news you might have missed from outside the hockey world. Following the NBA’s swift decision to suspend its season Wednesday, commissioner Adam Silver released a letter to NBA fans Thursday evening indicating the league will not return to action until mid-April at the earliest.
“As you know, we have temporarily suspended our season in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” Silver wrote. “We made this decision to safeguard the health and well-being of fans, players, everyone connected to our game and the general public. This hiatus will last at least 30 days and we intend to resume the season, if and when it becomes safe for all concerned.”
In uncertain times such as these, the NBA’s timeline for resuming its season is particularly pertinent to the NHL and its fans. It was, after all, the NBA’s decision to suspend its season in the wake of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 that kicked off Friday’s events, which included not only the NHL’s decision to “pause” its season but the subsequent postponement or cancellation of events throughout the hockey world. It impacted everything from Canadian and American major junior leagues, minor professional circuits, collegiate play and youth hockey. The NWHL’s Isobel Cup final, which was set to be played Friday evening in Boston, was postponed at the eleventh hour, though that announcement came prior to the NHL’s decision.
And while nothing can be assumed and it seems certain the NHL will want to take a long look of its own at the situation before ultimately announcing any potential timeline for resuming action, one has to imagine that if the NBA has decided it won’t return to the court for the next 30 days, a similar decision can’t be far behind from its on-ice counterpart. There are, without question, matters of health and public safety to consider. Optically, as well, the NHL will perhaps want to approach the coronavirus outbreak with the same caution the NBA has.
If the NHL does, indeed, follow suit and doesn’t resume play for the next 30 days, that would make the earliest start date April 13, or nine days after the regular season was originally slated to conclude. And that creates a ripple effect.
At the time the league pressed pause on the season, there were an 24 days of play remaining on the regular season calendar. If the NHL intends to play the remaining games, which is unclear given we’re in uncharted territory, that would push the conclusion of the campaign back to early May. The issues with that are plenty, however. Building availability will almost assuredly become an issue, which then stands to create travel headaches and scheduling conflicts and myriad other hurdles. But let's (foolishly) assume the NHL finds a way to pull off the remainder of the regular season prior to the playoffs. Even if that is the case, it means we won’t see a full four-round post-season of seven-game series end until sometime in July, which then impacts the draft, free agency and perhaps even the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The NHL could, however, decide an abridged schedule or expanded post-season is the best way forward. If that is the case, maybe the mid-April restart keeps everything ticking along in an admittedly bizarre fashion that allows the NHL to eventually adhere to its own playoff and off-season calendar. It's possible. Just about anything is at this point, though.
What is safe to say in the midst of all of this is that there's far more we don’t know and won’t know until the coronavirus pandemic is under far greater control. After all, what was once optimism about the ability to continue the season changed overnight. But if the NBA’s lead is followed again, it seems likely that we've got our first ideas as to when the league could return, and it seems entirely possible that the NHL follows suit and closes its doors for the next 30 days.
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