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Blues play halted as NHL suspends season because of coronavirus

Blues play halted as NHL suspends season because of coronavirus

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Virus may have US sports leagues cutting locker-room access

National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman (left) spoke to members of the media last Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo)

The NHL has announced a temporary suspension of its season on Thursday because of the coronavirus, a decision that was inevitable after the NBA had done the same on Wednesday night.

The league hopes to be able to resume the season and award the Stanley Cup, but with the fast-changing conditions, it's obviously impossible to say when. TSN reported that the league hopes for a short break and that teams won't practice in the interim. The situation will be assessed on a daily basis.

“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 league said.

"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.”

Said Blues president and CEO Chris Zimmerman: "Our goal is to resume play and host other events as soon as it is appropriate. We expect to complete this season and defend the Stanley Cup."

Zimmerman also said: "I can assure you that the St. Louis Blues and the NHL are following the mandates of health experts and local authorities to ensure that anyone who joins us for events at Enterprise Center and Stifel Theatre are in a safe and healthy environment.

"We will continue to monitor all of the appropriate medical advice, and will encourage everyone affiliated with our organization and all of St. Louis to take all reasonable and appropriate precautions. ... We are in constant communication with health experts, the city of St. Louis and the NHL and we will update you on further developments."

Just Wednesday afternoon, the Blues released a statement about enhanced sanitary policies at Enterprise Center and that the games would go on. Teams in some markets, Columbus and San Jose, were prepared to play games without fans, but then Wednesday evening, Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus and the NBA abruptly suspended play.

The NHL allowed last night’s games, including the Blues’ 4-2 win at Anaheim, to be played. The Blues are en route back from the West Coast on Thursday afternoon.

The league’s board of governors finalized the decision on a conference call today.

The Blues have 11 games remaining in the regular season and were supposed to have home games on Friday against San Jose and Sunday against Ottawa before going out on the road.

There would seem to be several options going forward for the league, ranging from the most extreme, cancelling the season, to restarting play after a short pause.

Depending on how long play is suspended, the league could restart the season, play the final regular-season games and then hold the playoffs as normal, or it could go straight to the playoffs and declare the regular season over. Frank Seravalli of TSN in Canada reported that teams have been asked about arena availability into July. Last season, the Stanley Cup Final, won by the Blues, ended on June 12. Extending the season past June 30 would complicate the league's offseason schedule, with the draft and free agency, but exceptions would have to be made for a large-scale change.

The Blues’ regular season is scheduled to end on April 4.

Canceling games would be a big step for the NHL, since the league, moreso than the NBA, MLB or NFL, is dependent on ticket sales because their TV contract is not as big as the others. Some teams have as many as eight home games remaining. The Blues have six. While some teams have released information about ticket refunds, the Blues have not yet.

The NHL Players Association endorsed the decision to suspend the season.

“The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time," the group said. "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.”

The American Hockey League, the NHL's top minor league, has also suspended play. So have the Canadian and American junior leagues.

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