Home NHL Will the NHL have to cancel games or play in empty stadiums due to coronavirus? – National Post

Will the NHL have to cancel games or play in empty stadiums due to coronavirus? – National Post

15 min read

San Jose Sharks are test case on how NHL will deal with hard realities of coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus is already shutting down major hockey and sporting events around the world. Will the entire National Hockey League season be next?

Or will the NHL find a way to carry on, perhaps playing games in empty stadiums?

Here’s what has happened so far:

  • Jan. 30. China shuts down the start of its major soccer league season. Football, tennis, boxing, cycling, running and even e-sports events have all been affected in China, DW.com reports.
  • February 27. The Japanese Prime Minister requests that all major sporting events be cancelled or postponed.
  • March 8: The 2020 Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, set to go in Halifax and Truro in late March, are cancelled.
  • March 9: In Italy, the famous and lucrative top soccer league, Serie A, has now cancelled its entire season. Italy has the most coronavirus cases in Europe, with 7,000 confirmed infections and 463 deaths. Serie A had been playing games before stadiums with no fans, but the Italian government has now shut down games completely. The BBC reports that Italian Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora rejected games behind close doors in empty stadiums: “The world of football feels immune to rules and sacrifices.” And Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte said: “There’s no reason for the games to continue… The fans will have to deal with it. We won’t even allow gyms to be used.”
  • March 9: Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer have now closed their locker rooms to reporters.
  • March 9: In San Jose, the Sharks are mulling over their options because Santa Clara County in California announced Monday a ban on gatherings of at least 1,000 people for the rest of the month. This ban came after a Santa Clara County woman in her sixties died from the virus, the county’s first death related to the virus. The Sharks have three games in this time period, against the Montreal Canadiens on March 19, the Boston Bruins  on March 21 and the Arizona Coyotes  on March 29. The Sharks could possibly play to an empty SAP Centre, play at a neutral site or in the opposing team’s venue.In a statement, the Sharks said:
  • March 10: The German and Austrian leagues have now cancelled their seasons and playoffs.
  • March 10: In Russia, there’s a ban on all gatherings of 5,000 or more, which will impact the KHL playoffs.
  • March 10: All French Ligue 1 and second division matches will be played behind closed doors until April 15, the French football league has announces, reports France24.  France at that time had 1,606 cases of COVID-19 infections and 30 deaths.

My take

  1. Public health experts around the world are pushing for the same kind of total ban on public gatherings in cities with coronavirus outbreaks. It’s hard to imagine that coronavirus won’t continue to spread in North America and that even with a few deaths — given the strength of safety culture in North American — that major public gatherings won’t banned. This will mean an end of large crowds at professional sporting events in the short term.
  2. Italians are every bit as crazy and passionate about Serie A football as we are about hockey. If the lucrative Serie A can be cancelled, so can the NHL season. If Ligue 1 in France, another huge and lucrative sports league, can play games behind closed doors in empty stadiums, so can the NHL.
  3. My own bet is the NHL season will go on but many if not all games will be played to empty arenas by early April.
  4. I’m uncertain as to why Series A games could not have been played behind closed doors. Is there a major risk of player-to-play transmission during a game? Perhaps there is in a game like soccer, where sweaty players rub against one another. I’m just guessing here but this would seem to be less of a risk in hockey, with players covered in layers of equipment. But, again, that’s just my guess. I’m just a fan hoping the games will continue, not a medical expert.
  5. The 1919 Stanley Cup finals were cancelled due to the Spanish Flu, and after a player named Joe Hall died from the disease.
  6. As an Oilers fan, I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the idea that this Oilers season might come to a premature end. But I can now see that happening, and it may come sooner than later. When the coronavirus hits a region, it hits fast. When people start to die, we react forcefully in the modern world. Sometimes we over react in the name of safety. I don’t see why we would suddenly change now as we face the unknown threat of coronavirus.
  7. Want to help stop the spread of coronavirus? At our house we have a new rule with our teenagers that whenever you enter, you thoroughly wash your hands. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, has this advice: “All of us need to be engaged in this response we need to start thinking about what our new normal will look like over the coming months with no vaccine for this virus likely to be available for a year or more to protect the population we need to protect each other we can do this by covering coughs and sneezes washing hands regularly and most importantly we need to stay home and away from others when we are sick it is time to start greeting each other with elbow bumps or waves instead of handshakes this is not an overreaction but a very practical way of limiting the spread of germs.”

Twitter reacts: “The NHL will never play in front of an empty building outside of Florida.”

When I asked folks on Twitter what they thought about the possibility of the NHL shutting down or playing games behind closed doors, here were some of the responses:

No NHL should not cancel games IMHO. If it came down to precautionary measures, I think playing in empty arenas and airing the games on TV is the way to go. 🤷🏻‍♀️

17 Kurri @17Kurri
Cancel the games – why take the chance when there is no vaccine developed or firm treatment protocol devised yet?

Skoobz @skoobz2001
They might cancel games with no playoff implications. They won’t cancel playoff games but would play them in empty arenas, unless… A player gets Covid-19 and then the season is over.

Martin L @mlindgrin2000

I don’t think so, everyone has a TV, empty arenas is my vote, we would have to figure out a way to get the viewer feedback live to the team. Maybe from the screens in the arenas. I agree this is serious, but it will run its course as all natural disasters do.

Dave White @sandpaperblues
I would say empty arenas

~Kevrock~ @KkevrockK

This is beyond ridiculous. Society has become so over dramatic, it’s not Ebola. It’s like everyone wants to live the movie demolition man.

el capitan @skidsy78
It’s better to be proactive than reactive…

Jarod @Jarod23409143
Eventually cancel..look at Italy..everything cancelled..it’s coming..infected people still flying in to Canada.

Kyle Cleary @Wx_Ninja
Too close to the end of season to postpone and no idea how long this will go on, so I think they’ll play in empty rinks. They’ve already started that with soccer games in Europe.

FrankMahovlich-Oiler Fan @mahovlich_m
No games…No TV $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. So they will play. and besides…will having nobody at the games stop every bar from being overflowing? So if you shut out the fans from the game – you have to close the bars too, and I doubt that will happen.

Jason @LL_Cool_J11
The NHL will never play in front of an empty building outside of Florida.

Ken Loo @KenLoo1988
It would cost more to refund broadcasters & advertisers than to refund ticket holders or apply refund to a future game. I’m guessing empty arenas. Depends on what Sharks do.

Living within & living without @dmchattie99
Empty arenas makes sense. The tv viewership will be that much higher.
Better to get the tv revenue than nothing at all.

Trish @queenofallbling
Will other teams be willing to fly their team into heavily infected area to play in said empty arena? And stay in local hotel in heavily infected area? I think neutral sites will be the answer if it comes to that. Will be interesting to see what San Jose does.

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