It certainly wasn't going to be ideal, but it was a necessary compromise. On Wednesday, the Sharks announced that when they returned from their four-game road trip, they planned to play the remainder of their March home games at SAP Center in front of no fans.
Twenty-four hours later, it turns out those games won't be played at all, or at least not for a while.
The NHL announced Thursday that the 2019-20 season has been indefinitely paused due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The league ultimately had very little choice after its hand was forced by the NBA choosing to do the same Wednesday night, after two Utah Jazz players tested positive for the coronavirus.
If the NHL and NBA aren't siblings, they're at least cousins. They have nearly identical league structures, the same number of games, similar season schedules, and in many cases, their respective teams share the same home building. When the NBA indefinitely suspended its season Wednesday night, it was only a matter of time until the rest of the professional sports family followed.
How it affects the league and the Sharks
There are 189 games and three-and-a-half weeks remaining in the NHL's regular season. If and when it resumes is anyone's guess. You can lump the playoffs in with that, as well.
In announcing that the season had been paused, the NHL held out hope that it would be able to press play again before a lengthy hiatus.
"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," the league said in a statement.
The NHL pauses the 2019-20 season. pic.twitter.com/bCi776ZFqX— NHL (@NHL) March 12, 2020
While it has been extremely rare, there is prior NHL precedent in which the Stanley Cup has not been awarded to any team. It has happened twice, first in 1918-19 due to the Spanish Flu, and again in 2004-05 because of the lockout. There are several parallels between the former situation and the current one.
Whether or not the remainder of the regular season and/or playoffs take place, the Sharks won't be raising Lord Stanley. We've known that for quite some time.
While San Jose's season has been prematurely cut short -- for the time being, at least -- by the coronavirus pandemic, it's not as if it had been a successful one. A ridiculous combination of bad luck and injuries to key players this season has resulted in the franchise's worst points-percentage since 2002-03, not to mention a midseason coaching change that ultimately didn't do much to change the team's trajectory. In what could possibly have been the Sharks' final game this season Wednesday night, they stumbled to a 6-2 road loss against the Chicago Blackhawks. Combined with the Los Angeles Kings' win over the Ottawa Senators, it plummeted San Jose to the absolute bottom of the league standings.
"We're all upset we lost a game 6-2 and then you look at what everybody else is going through in the world, you got to remind yourself this is just a game," interim coach Bob Boughner said following the loss. "There are bigger things going on."
Just like pretty much everything else in the world of sports right now, nobody can be sure.
The NHL can hope and pray all it wants that the season will be able to resume in the relatively near future, but it would appear to be far too early in the process to have any reasonable idea about the viability of that possibility. The Sharks boarded the team plane back to San Jose on Thursday morning, and upon landing, there was very little certainty as far as when the team might next be entirely together.
TSN's Darren Dreger reported Thursday that players have been told to stay home, and that all meetings, practices and travel have been prohibited.
More details on the NHL suspending play. No travel allowed. No meeting. No paractices. However, it’s a rapidly changing environment. For now it’s go home, go home and stay home until further notice.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) March 12, 2020
No NHL player has tested positive for the coronavirus as of yet, but it's fair to assume that it's just a matter of time until one does. If and when that happens, one would expect the potential resumption date to be pushed further out.
In the meantime, there's not much that the Sharks or other NHL teams can do. They can't play games or practice. There are no leagues or tournaments to scout, pretty much throughout the entire world. San Jose did well to add to its draft arsenal at the trade deadline, but the team likely will be limited to prior tape when evaluating prospects, and those that are already in the franchise's system will see their development halted.
It's been an ugly season for the Sharks, and one they probably wouldn't have minded fast-forwarding to the end of.
Not like this, though.
Unfortunately, there are much bigger things going on.