The ominously bad news is that the NHL season has been put on pause by the coronavirus pandemic as its begun to infiltrate the United States.
The next month or two is going to be “wait and see” in pretty much every aspect of life as seemingly everything, from schools to theatres and museums, close down in mitigation efforts to try and slow down the spread of the dangerous virus. Bruins players and staff certainly understood the gravity of the situation and the reasoning behind suspending the NHL regular season for the time being.
“Today’s news is difficult to process for our team, our staff, our city and our fans everywhere,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara in a statement. “As players, we love being able to compete and feed off the passion of our fans, but we understand that this challenge facing our world is much bigger than sports.”
The good news we’re seeing in places like China and South Korea is that we will get on the other side of the coronavirus if social distancing is successful. So there is legit hope that the league will reconvene in the next couple of months and still be able to at least hold a Stanley Cup playoff pushed back deeper into the summer.
That was the common theme from Bruins players and personnel in their thoughts at the news that NHL regular season was being put on pause.
“While it’s disappointing the season has been paused, it’s become apparent that the situation is much larger than sports. In a time like this it is important we continue to listen to experts whose job it is to maintain the safety and well-being of the population until the issue stabilizes,” said Patrice Bergeron in a statement. “That said, we hope the situation improves soon and we can resume our pursuit of the Stanley Cup. Finally, I’d like to wish everyone in the New England community, and people across the globe, safety and good health.”
Bruins GM Don Sweeney highlighted the medical professionals that are going to be under great strain in the days and weeks ahead as well, which puts in great perspective exactly what’s important right now.
“I think we all believe that the health and well-being of every individual person has to be the priority when decisions like this are made,” said Sweeney in a statement. “We want to support the efforts of the entire Health sector as they dedicate their lives to care for those in need.
“Hopefully we are able to resume playing at some point and the pursuit of the Stanley Cup is realized and becomes a small part of the story. Right now, the world’s focus must remain on people staying healthy and recovering from these challenging times.”
What could the NHL look like when it does come back?
The NHL is going to revisit things in a few weeks and gauge the state of the country, but the sense here is that’s way too soon to expect a return to regular action. A more realistic scenario is that the NHL will hit the pause button for a minimum of six weeks and that, if all goes exceedingly well, hockey might be ready to return around the beginning of May.
If that happens the regular season isn’t likely to be resumed, and instead, the Stanley Cup playoffs would begin with seeding by winning percentage given the games played disparities when the season paused. The timing of it all would be almost exactly in line with the lockout-shortened 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs when the postseason began at the start of May, and the final game of the Stanley Cup final was played on June 24.
League sources have indicated to NBCSportsBoston.com that the NHL has inquired about open arena dates into the month of July if need be, so the league is fully prepared to push the postseason even deeper into the summer. That should give some assurance to hockey fans that the league is doing everything they can to ensure there is proper closure to this season. It’s understandable given the circumstances, but it would be heartbreaking for Bruins fans if they never get to see the playoff potential of a Bruins team that was steaming toward the President’s Trophy this season.
A scenario with July hockey games could open up a whole logistical can of worms, of course, with the NHL Draft set for late June and the traditional open of NHL free agency on July 1 each summer as well. But if we’ve learned anything at this point, it’s that the next six months or more are going to be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. The entire world is in uncharted waters right now across all walks of life and it’s going to take a while before anybody has concrete answers about anything, NHL-related or otherwise.
For now let’s keep the hope for a Stanley Cup playoff alive and let that be the light at the end of the tunnel after a long, strange few months waiting ahead for all of us.