How the COVID-19 outbreak is increasingly impacting the hockey world

The Hockey Central panel discuss what they expect to see from the NHL on Thursday after the NBA season was suspended.

Just six days ago, we outlined how the COVID-19 outbreak was impacting the hockey world so far.

Much has already changed since then.

More leagues have cancelled playoffs and another major international event was called off. The NBA, a league the NHL shares many arenas with, has suspended its season until further notice.

The effects are beginning to be felt in the NHL, to the point where we’ll either see our first game played in front of an empty arena on Thursday night or, perhaps more likely, the league follows the NBA’s lead and suspends its season as well. Teams that were scheduled to skate or have availabilities this morning have been directed to cancel those.

Arenas across North America were already taking precautions, such as placing more hand sanitizer stations and advising spectators to not come if they are feeling under the weather or are at risk. Ticket refunds are beginning to be planned and announced if a person has to stay away, or if it’s mandated that more arenas cannot accept large public gatherings.

It’s a big, developing story that will surely continue to change. On an international scale, the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic on Wednesday.

Here is the latest update as to how the hockey world is being impacted, with more developments surely to come:

LOTS OF EUROPEAN PLAYOFFS HAVE BEEN CANCELLED

As of last week, we had seen the Swiss League postpone the beginning of its playoffs until Friday, March 13, but on Thursday that changed to a full cancellation of the remainder of their season.

On Tuesday, the German and Austrian Leagues called off their playoffs and on Wednesday the top leagues in Poland, Norway, Slovakia and more followed suit. The top Czech League cancelled its season following a stated government emergency on Thursday. In Denmark, the start of the playoffs have been delayed until April 1 and the format has changed to a round-robin.

The final games of the regular season in the Finnish League take place Thursday and through the weekend, and are currently scheduled to go on as normal. The SHL, following a Swedish government decision to ban public gatherings of more than 500 people, has postponed its playoffs.

In Russia, the KHL playoffs are wrapping up their first round and on Tuesday the mayor of Moscow banned public events of more than 5,000 people through until at least April 10. The KHL has so far not changed its plans, but there are three Moscow-based teams still playing: CSKA, Spartak and Dynamo. The latter two of those teams are currently playing against each other with the next game scheduled for Thursday night.

Jokerit, a Finland-based team in the KHL, just advanced to the next round, but will go on playing in front of an empty arena for now.

As for other European events, the IIHF already cancelled the Women’s World Championship, which was scheduled to take place in Nova Scotia from March 31 to April 10. The Men’s World Championship, which would involve NHL players, doesn’t start until May 8, but is to run in Switzerland, which as mentioned above, has already had to cancel its season. IIHF president Rene Fasel has made it clear that the tournament will not go on in front of empty arenas, so if a government ban persists in Switzerland, the most likely outcome would be that the tournament is cancelled. However, no decision has been made and no date has been set to make any final decision by.

The IIHF’s international council is scheduled to meet next Monday and Tuesday to discuss plans for all its events in April, which would include the under-18 tournament scheduled for Plymouth and Ann Arbour from April 16-26. Usually this is a big scouting event ahead of the NHL draft.

OHIO RECOMMENDS NO SPECTATORS AT GAMES, FULL BAN LIKELY TO FOLLOW

On Tuesday, Ohio governor Mike DeWine tweeted a recommendation, not an order, that all indoor sporting events go on without spectators in attendance.

On Wednesday, DeWine followed up by saying an official ban on large public gatherings was likely to follow soon.

The next Columbus Blue Jackets home game is scheduled for Thursday against Pittsburgh and they play at home again on Saturday against Nashville. The Blue Jackets announced they would comply with DeWine’s forthcoming restriction.

“Admission to games will be limited to home and visiting club personnel, credentialed media and broadcast partners, essential club and arena staff and NHL officials. The games will be closed to the public,” the Blue Jackets said in a release.

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WASHINGTON D.C. RECOMMENDS CANCELLING GATHERINGS OF MORE THAN 1,000 PEOPLE

In what is clearly a trend, the public health department in Washington D.C. is also recommending the cancellation of all public events that would attract more than 1,000 people.

The Washington Capitals return home to play the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, and have home games on Saturday and Monday as well.

SHARKS TO PLAY NEXT THREE GAMES WITHOUT FANS IN ATTENDANCE

The Sharks announced on Wednesday that the team will play their next three home games at the SAP Center without fans in attendance as part of COVID-19 precautions.

“The safety of our fans, guests and partners is of the utmost importance. Sharks Sports & Entertainment and SAP Center management greatly appreciate your understanding during this unprecedented time,” the team said in a statement.

The games included are March 19 vs. the Montreal Canadiens, March 21 vs. the Boston Bruins and March 29 vs. the Arizona Coyotes.

Admission to games will be limited to team personnel, media, essential club and arena staff, and NHL officials.

The city of San Francisco, some 48 miles away, issued its own ban on public gatherings of more than 1,000 people, which has forced the Golden State Warriors to play their Thursday night game without spectators.

SCOUTS BANNED FROM FLYING

We learned at the NHL’s GM Meetings that the league had banned all business travel for league office employees and that anyone who travelled on their own would be subject to a two-week quarantine period upon return. Now we’re starting to learn how teams are beginning to implement their own measures.

As reported by Chris Johnston on Wednesday morning, the Toronto Maple Leafs have grounded all scouts who are flying to games. This follows the grounding of their European scouts a few weeks ago when the outbreak first started taking hold there. However, some members of the scouting team have continued to travel to games by car.

Eric Engels later reported that the Montreal Canadiens had similarly grounded their scouting department. Edmonton, Arizona, Boston and Colorado as well.

Not all teams have made this information publicly available.

MAJOR JUNIOR STARTS TO FEEL THE IMPACT

Also on Wednesday, Washington governor Jay Inslee formally prohibited gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties in the Seattle area.

While there is no NHL team competing out of that city yet, there are two WHL teams that will be affected: the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds. The Silvertips’ next home game was scheduled for Friday, March 20 and the team has announced they will play it without spectators in attendance. The Thunderbirds’ next home game was scheduled for Saturday and they announced they would also comply with the mandated guidelines. The WHL released a statement on the latest developments out of Seattle.

“The WHL, Silvertips, and Thunderbirds will be reviewing each WHL regular season event scheduled to take place for the rest of the month in the Greater Seattle area. More information will be provided when it is available.”

HARVARD ENDS ITS HOCKEY SEASON

With an ECAC men’s hockey best-of-three quarterfinal on tap against RPI this weekend, the decision was made by the Harvard Athletics Department to forfeit and cancel the rest of their regular season. Those games had already been planned to go ahead without spectators in the building.

There is no other update yet as it pertains to the rest of the ECAC tournament or the teams involved.

NWHL FINAL POSTPONED

On Thursday morning, the NWHL announced that the Isobel Cup Final, which was scheduled for Friday night, has been postponed.

“At the appropriate time, the NWHL, Pride and Whitecaps will reschedule the Isobel Cup Final for a later date in Boston,” the league said in a release.

“We want to host the Isobel Cup Final in an environment where our fans, players, and everyone working or attending our championship game can feel safe. The progression of COVID-19 in many parts of the world, including the U.S., resulted in the league making this decision in the interest of public health and the wellbeing of all involved in the event.”

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