NHL lays out coronavirus contingency plan, could impact playoffs

The HNIC panel discusses the NHL’s contingency plans for coronavirus affecting league play, further turmoil with the Ottawa Senators after the firing of CEO Jim Little, and the upcoming NHL Draft Lottery.

The NHL has asked teams around the league for available dates late in April in case the coronavirus continues to spread and forces games to be postponed.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported three elements of the league’s contingency plan during Saturday’s Headlines segment on Hockey Night in Canada, which includes playing in empty arenas and lining up potential neutral site venues should a specific region or continent become unsuitable to play in.

Johnston said the league doesn’t know what is going to happen next as the virus has over 50 confirmed cases in Canada and continues to grow. The number is far greater in the U.S.

“This is an unprecedented situation,” Johnston said. “I do think there’s some real concern that this could have an impact on the most important games of the season.”

The league’s regular season is currently due to end on April 4, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting shortly thereafter.

Earlier on Saturday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported select teams would close their locker rooms to media in an effort to stop the spread of the virus with media availabilities taking place as formal press conferences instead.

Johnston said this could extend to being a league-wide decision depending on what the latest developments are.

The NBA told teams on Friday to prepare for the possibility of playing games in empty arenas, as some sports leagues in Europe have already done, an idea that Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James said he wanted no part of. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, at the Montreal-Florida game Saturday, would not answer if hockey has gone as far as to prepare for that contingency.

“I don’t want to create any speculation or hysteria,” Bettman said. “There are obviously a variety of consequences that we may have to focus on and we’ll do that in the appropriate time, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, OK? We’re staying on top of it. We’re in constant communication with our clubs and the players association and we’re going to deal with this in as thorough, professional, on-top-of-it manner as possible. Let’s everybody take a deep breath.”

NHL players have already been asked to limit contact with fans while all business-related travel outside North America for league employees has been stopped.

— with files from the Associated Press

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