NHL looking at plans if coronavirus spreads

BOCA RATON -- The NHL is "starting to explore contingency plans" should the coronavirus become a more significant health threat in North America ahead of the 2019-20 NHL playoffs, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN on Monday.

Daly did not rule out several options, such as postponing or canceling games, or even playing games in empty arenas.

"I think it's very unlikely -- knock on wood, I'm hopeful -- that we would progress to a stage where we have to consider something that dramatic," Daly said. "But certainly everything is possible, and we have to look at all possible contingencies. If it gets to that point, we will be ready."

The NHL, however, is unlikely to make a trip to China next season, as hoped. The league played preseason games in China in 2017 and 2018, but missed this past fall because of logistical issues with booking arenas. While the NHL was optimistic about a return ahead of the 2020-21 season, Daly said the outbreak has made it difficult to firm up plans.

"We haven't announced anything," Daly said. "But it is unlikely we will play games in China next season, in part because of this [health crisis]."

Asked for the other reasons, Daly said: "I'm not sure there would be any other reasons."

The NHL will continue to defer to health authorities as it assesses a threat for the rest of the 2019-20 season. The NHL sent out a memo to all 31 NHL teams on Friday, which, among other things, advised best practices, such as frequent hand washing for players and staff. The NHL has a joint health and safety committee featuring an infectious disease control subcommittee, which Daly said "has been on top of this."

Daly said the NHL does not have a deadline on whether they have to decide about canceling playoff games.

"It's totally situation specific, but we have to think through all of the possibilities," Daly said. "The leagues are all starting to do that, focusing on what we would do in a given situation. But obviously first and foremost, you listen to the health authorities and what they are telling you and what their concerns are and what their recommendations are. Right now, the CDC and Public Health Canada are both saying rely on local health organizations and agencies, so we'll take our lead from them."

The coronavirus outbreak affected the hockey community last month when Chinese factories for Bauer and CCM -- two of the most popular equipment brands -- closed. Some NHL players cycle through as many as 100 sticks per season, and individual teams began making preparations for a potential shortage. Daly said that issue has now been solved.

"The plants are up and running," Daly said. "We were on top of that situation early. We assessed the supply issues. Certain clubs may have had issues if the shutdown was prolonged, but the manufacturing plants are up and running again. So all good on that front."

Earlier on Monday, the IIHF cancelled six tournaments on the advice of the IIHF Medical Committee at an emergency meeting of the IIHF Council on Monday in Hungary. The men's world championship is still on for May in Switzerland.

While it is not an NHL event, many top NHL players attend if their teams are eliminated from the playoffs.

"Obviously we would make sure that everyone is aware of the situation, as well as best practices," Daly said. "I can't foresee issuing mandates, so each responsible entity would be responsible for making its own decisions. But we want to make sure everyone makes informed decisions."

The NHL has scheduled a game in Prague, Czech Republic, to open next season, as well as preseason games in Germany and Switzerland. The league will also send teams to Helsinki, Finland, for two games in November. Daly said as of now, he doesn't think those games will be affected.

"This is an evolving situation, so you get up every day and see what the latest news is," Daly said. "Certainly we hope that it won't even be a concern."