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NHL keeping close eye on coronavirus, limiting employee travel

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The NHL is not allowing its employees to make work-related trips outside of North America in response to the global fears over the coronavirus, and if any of those employees go on their own to a country where the virus has been found they will be quarantined before being able to return to work.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday the league has told its 31 teams they were free to adopt a similar policy, though he stopped short of saying it would be a mandate as concerns of the virus continue to grow.

''We barred all travel outside of North America for business purposes,’' Bettman said on the final day of general managers’ meetings. ''People at a personal level or people in their households are still free to do what they want to do. If you go to a place that’s on the list of countries that have an issue or while you’re there the country comes on the list, then when you come back we want you quarantined, out of the office for two weeks until we can see if symptoms develop.’'

That even applies to those who work for the NHL’s central scouting service: Scouts who are in Europe are staying in Europe, and if they return to North America they will be quarantined. Bettman said the NHL is in regular communication with the other three major North American sports leagues, as well as health experts in both the U.S. and Canada.

Through Wednesday, there have been more than 94,000 confirmed cases of people contracting the virus worldwide, with more than 3,200 deaths.

''We’re constantly updating the clubs based on what we’re hearing from our experts and the CDC and Canada’s equivalent,’' Bettman said. ''It’s day by day. We’re going to continue to monitor things. It’s business as usual. We’re going to keep everybody completely informed.’'

The NHL hasn’t gone as far as the NBA did earlier this week. The NBA sent a memo to teams on Sunday suggesting that players limit high-fives with fans and be hesitant to touch markers and items in autograph-seeking situations. Some NBA players have said they are stopping autographs altogether for the time being, and others are carrying their own markers to group-signing scrums.

''When it comes to that level of detail, leagues will do what they think are appropriate and necessary under the circumstances,’' Bettman said ''Our clubs at the medical level, the training level and the player level are pretty informed as to what is wise and prudent conduct under the circumstances.’'

The International Ice Hockey Federation said this weekit has canceled six different tournaments - events that were to take place in March and April in Estonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain. Pro leagues in Switzerland and China have also been affected, some games called off, others played without fans.

The NHL isn’t at that point yet with the playoffs coming up next month.

''We’re aware of and focused on all possibilities,’' Bettman said. ''But at this point it would be premature to pick any one of the possibilities, especially because it may or may not become necessary in North America.’'


Bettman said he found it ''intriguing’’ when David Ayres, a 42-year-old Zamboni driver, took the ice as the emergency backup goaltender for the Carolina Hurricanes when they faced the Toronto Maple Leafs last month.

Ayres shook off a shaky start, allowing goals on his first two shots, and became the first emergency goalie in NHL history to be credited with a victory.

''What was, to me, more remarkable was how he settled down and how Carolina played the third period. ... For those of you old enough to remember, it was a real Walter Mitty moment,’' Bettman said.


Bettman insisted that the new puck to be used in the NHL’s new player and puck tracking plans is not going to change the way the game is played, and that the puck will perform exactly as the current puck does.

''The puck has been extensively tested, it’s been extensively used and anybody suggesting that somehow that could be an issue, it’s pure speculation, misguided speculation,’' Bettman said.