Like every other professional sports organization in the world amidst the chaos caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the National Hockey League has ended play for the season until further notice. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the pause on Thursday, March 12 with 189 total games remaining in the regular season. The regular season, which was slated to end on April 4 ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning April 6, has been postponed indefinitely. This raises questions regarding how and when the league will proceed with the remainder of the season. Originally, per the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, the NHL advised all of their players and staff to self-quarantine until March 27; however, this period has been extended twice. First it was set to continue until April 4, barring specific extensions for athletes which would be assessed on an individual basis. Now it has been extended again until April 15. This is the next big obstacle that the league will be forced to overcome, and decisions cannot be made until this deadline is met. The current tally of infected players has shot up to four since the first reported case on March 17, and all diagnosed athletes were known to face the Los Angeles Kings in the days prior to the season’s suspension.
The NHL has organized Zoom calls, one for each conference, which allows for a single representative of each team to weigh in on how they hope the season will continue. Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins represented the Metropolitan division. They both expressed on the call that they would have no problem with omitting the remaining games, and starting the playoffs immediately upon resuming the season. With four Stanley Cup Championship titles between the two stars, and given their standings at the time of the pause where their respective teams would both notch a spot in the playoffs, their response makes sense. However, what does that say for teams like the New York Islanders, who were just one point shy of notching a Wild Card spot at the time of the break? Would such a decision lead to a fair Stanley Cup final round? I do not think so. McDavid echoed this sentiment when he said, “you want a fair season. And a fair season is a full season. If we can do that, I think that’s something we’d obviously prefer.”
The beauty of playoff hockey is its limitless potential for upset. The tournament format fosters an opportunity for only the most deserving team to have a hand at hoisting the Stanley Cup, and the road to the cup often comes with unexpected victories and losses in the process. The regular season begins in October and ends around this time, in April. The Stanley Cup Champions are then crowned early in the month of June, following an approximate month and a half of postseason. This leaves the teams who did not make it to the playoffs with almost six whole months of down time during the off-season, and those who made it to the final round would have around four months of time to recuperate and prepare for the next season. The NHL has lost almost a month of play, and at the rate this virus is spreading it looks as though there will be at least another month or two before the season may continue. This poses issues having to do with the amount of rest and training time that athletes rely on between seasons. Cutting that period short could potentially exacerbate the impact of COVID-19 by prolonging its repercussions and having them bleed into the 2020-2021 season. Such backlash would likely be shown through fatigue and unpreparedness. In my opinion, jumping straight to the playoffs would forfeit the integrity of the trophy; however, I am not sure of other feasible ways in which league administrators could conclude the season without somehow amending the usual order of things. Bettman’s statement concerning the suspension implied that the league looked to take the path of resumption. He said, “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.” I trust that they will do all they can to honor and uphold the coveted title of Stanley Cup Champions.
Until more information is given, hockey faithfuls and the general public alike must be patient and do their due diligence in slowing the spread of this virus with the hopes that a return to normalcy is in the near future.