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NHL follows NBA, MLS and suspends the regular season

NHL follows NBA, MLS and suspends the regular season

Amid growing fears over the spread of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, the NHL announced Thursday that it would suspend the regular season, thus following the example set by the NBA on Wednesday and MLS earlier Thursday.

“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," commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
 
“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.”

All regular-season games are postponed, including Thursday's Capitals game against the Detroit Red Wings. The hope is that the league will able to resume games after a short break.

The NBA elected to suspend its season on Wednesday after Rudy Gobert, a player for the Utah Jazz, tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The spread of the coronavirus has caused a rapid change in course for major sports leagues, including the NHL. On Saturday, it was reported the NHL was considering closing locker rooms to the media. On Monday, this policy was put in place by the NHL as well as MLB, MLS and NBA in a joint statement.  

The first NHL game in an empty arena was scheduled to be played Thursday between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, but by Wednesday the NBA had suspended its season and by Thursday the NHL followed suit.

Washington still has 13 games remaining on its regular-season schedule including eight games at Capital One Arena. The final day of the regular season was set for April 4.

 

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Pittsburgh Penguins announce unnamed player tested positive for COVID-19

Pittsburgh Penguins announce unnamed player tested positive for COVID-19

An unnamed player on the Pittsburgh Penguins has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the team announced on Thursday.

"This player is not in Pittsburgh and has been in isolation at home since first experiencing symptoms," the statement said. "He is recovered and feeling well. Those in close contact with the player leading up to the diagnosis have been notified." 

The organization stated that there would be no further updates on the player or situation at this time. 

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The Penguins are one of the 24 teams that will participate in the NHL's new playoff format once the season resumes. As of now, training camp for teams will not begin until July 10 at the earliest and there is still no clear timetable for when games will begin.

This announcement does bring up the question as to what the league will do if a positive diagnosis happens once play starts up again. Though NHL deputy commissioner Billy Daly has stated that he doesn't believe one positive test will halt the entire postseason, a plan will need to be put in place for how to handle a player contracting coronavirus.

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NHL, NHLPA resolve two key Stanley Cup playoff format issues

NHL, NHLPA resolve two key Stanley Cup playoff format issues

While the NHL revealed the basic outline of the Stanley Cup playoff format on May 26 there were still specifics that needed to be worked out, including the length of postseason series and whether to keep a bracket format.

On Thursday, the NHL and NHLPA resolved those issues. According to the league, each round after the play-in round will be a best-of-seven series and teams will be re-seeded after each round. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun was the first to report the news. 

The NHL halted play on March 12 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic before announcing last month a return-to-play plan that was light on specifics. 

While the play-in round will remain a best-of-five series, the remaining four rounds after that will be a best-of-seven which will look familiar to NHL fans. It takes 16 wins to win the Stanley Cup under normal circumstances and it still does, excluding the play-in round which the league has made clear it does not consider a part of the playoffs.

The reason why the length of each series was an issue was because of time constraints. The NHL intends to play a full 82-game season in 2020-21, but the longer the 2020 postseason takes, the later it will be before the next season can begin. A regular NHL postseason lasts about two months. With the play-in round and four best-of-seven rounds, the 2020 postseason could last a bit longer.

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Another issue was what to do with seeding. The NHL and NHLPA elected to scrub the bracket format in favor of re-seeding after each round. This was the way the playoffs were typically organized prior to the divisional playoff format.

With no home-ice advantage for any team - everyone will be restricted to hub cities and playing games without fans - the league needed to give some benefit to the top seeds so as not to invalidate both the regular season and the round-robin games each of the top four teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences will play. Re-seeding was really the only option. If the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens upset the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, the top seed should play Montreal which would be the lowest seed left in the conference.

A bracket format, however, is built on the assumption the top seed will win each matchup meaning the No. 4 would have been set up to play the winner of No. 5 vs. No. 12 - Montreal in this example - while the No. 1 team would have to play the winner of the No. 8 vs. No. 9 play-in series regardless of whether there were any upsets in that round. 

From the NHL's perspective, one of the benefits to the divisional format was being able to organize the postseason in a bracket that fans could follow. In this situation, however, trying to keep the bracket didn't make sense given the wide disparity between the seeds and the obvious disadvantage to the top seeds in the event of an upset.

These updates show continued progress between the NHL and NHLPA, but the big issues regarding health and safety protocols still need to be worked out before we see the return of hockey.

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