NHL pushes back timeline on potential resumption of season

The NHL is pushing back the possibility of resuming its season by several weeks, if not a month or more.

The league and NHL Players’ Association told players Monday they can go home — even out of North America — and must self-isolate through March 27 while the season is on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic. But the NHL also cautioned that it will not be able to even provide guidance on the potential reopening of team practices for another 45 days, which could push any potential return to play into May.

The new directives come on the heels of the CDC’s recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S. for the next eight weeks. The NHL said “depending on world developments,” consideration will be given to reopening facilities after the self-quarantine period ends in late March but practices for the 31 teams would not happen late April — at the earliest.

“I think in light of the CDC recommendations, it’s hard to foresee that we’re looking at much happening here in March or even April, in my opinion,” agent Jay Grossman said.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr each said Friday he was not aware of any player testing positive for coronavirus.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last week said his league’s hiatus would likely last at least a month. After saying last week the season was on “pause,” Bettman had not put a time frame on when the NHL might resume play.

“The pause will be until it’s appropriate and prudent and safe to start back up,” Bettman said last week. “Nobody knows how long the hiatus may be. Nobody, even the medical community, can predict it with certainty.”

The U.S. government has imposed a travel ban from Europe for non-citizens that extends until mid-April. There are currently 233 European players on NHL rosters, including leading scorer Leon Draisaitl from Germany, and there are more on contracts who are in the minors. How many might return home is unknown.

“I’ve spoken to some players who are doing their best to obviously scramble to return to the safest, most comfortable environment that they can get to at this point,” Grossman said.

The NHL suspended its season with 189 games remaining before the playoffs. Bettman said he remained optimistic about resuming and still awarding the Stanley Cup, which has only not been handed out twice since 1893: 1919 (Spanish flu outbreak) and 2005 (lockout).

NHL players previously were directed to stay in their team’s city and wait. The league and union had discussed the possibility of players returning to team training facilities within the next week or so, but that plan has changed.

“We’ll be constantly in touch with the NHL and constantly re-evaluating,” Fehr said last week. “Any date you pick out is merely going to be a best guess and it has about as much likelihood of being right as any other best guess.”

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The AP teams had been instructed to take care of arrangements for and pay players under contract.

— Arizona Coyotes defenseman Aaron Ness became the first NHL player publcly known to have been tested for COVID-19. Agent Neil Sheehy said results came back negative after Ness followed NHL guidelines to seek out testing for flu-like symptoms.

“He never thought he had it to begin, with to be quite honest,” Sheehy said by phone. “What happened is the league was saying if you have a sore throat, if you have a runny nose, if you have a cough, call the trainer and don’t come to the rink, and so he did that.”

— The American Hockey League, the NHL’s top minor league teams, said the indefinite suspension of its regular season won’t be lifted before May. The league also said it was recommending its teams work on returning players to their primary homes.

— The Kontinental Hockey League is taking a one-week pause in its playoffs to come up with a new format and schedule for the six remaining Russian teams. Finland-based Jokerit and Kazakhstan-based Barys Nur-Sultan pulled out of the playoffs amid the pandemic.