NHL suspending play immediately due to coronavirus

NHL suspending its season due to coronavirus pandemic (1:35)

Emily Kaplan explains how the NHL came to the decision to suspend its season due to the coronavirus pandemic. (1:35)

The NHL has suspended its season because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus but hopes to resume play in the future.

There are 189 games and 3½ weeks remaining in the NHL's regular season. There were 10 games on the NHL slate Thursday.

In a statement issued Thursday, the NHL said that "it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time" following news out of the NBA that Rudy Gobert, a player on the Utah Jazz, tested positive for the coronavirus. The NBA decided Wednesday night to suspend its season.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he also made the decision to pause the season Wednesday night but wanted to confer with the board of governors on Thursday before announcing it.

"For the last couple of weeks, we've been monitoring what's been going on," Bettman told CNBC on Thursday night. "We went from dealing with things on a day-to-day basis to an hour-by-hour basis, and then it was in minutes. We were constantly evolving our strategy about our teams playing or not playing. But last night, when the NBA had a positive test, and they had to cancel a game at that moment, it was clear to me -- and through all of our calculus, we knew -- that once a player tested positive it would be a game-changer. I decided to get ahead of it.

"In all likelihood, we weren't going to get through the rest of the season without a player testing positive. Particularly because the Utah Jazz had used locker rooms within 24 hours of our teams using the same locker rooms in buildings that we share with the NBA. I just decided that instead of waiting for it to happen, to just get ahead of it."

Bettman said on Thursday that "to the best of his knowledge" there has not been an NHL player who has had a positive test, and that he's not aware of any player on any team being "monitored" for the coronavirus.

The NHL players' union said in a statement: "The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time."

"It's become apparent that the situation is much larger than sports," Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "In a time like this, it is important we continue to listen to experts whose job it is to maintain the safety and well-being of the population until the issue stabilizes."

Since March 4, Gobert and the Jazz had played at Madison Square Garden in New York, TD Garden in Boston and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit -- which all host NHL teams as well. The Jazz also faced the Toronto Raptors, who share a home with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

On Thursday, sources told ESPN that Jazz star Donovan Mitchell also tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, who followed the Jazz into two arenas last weekend and occupied the same locker room while in Boston, said deep cleaning and sanitizing was done before they arrived.

"We also understand that with no actual contact with an infected person, our risk levels are low,'' the Lightning said in a statement. "As we are at no more risk than the general population and nobody in hockey operations has any symptoms, we are not subject to being tested at this time.''

The NHL began preparing for a stoppage on Thursday morning when it advised all teams to cancel morning skates, practices and team meetings. Earlier this week, the league adopted a new media policy that prevented reporters from entering the dressing room.

The NHL already was preparing to play games later this month in San Jose, California, and Columbus, Ohio, with no spectators -- per orders from local government.

All options are on the table for the NHL when it comes to potentially scheduling the Stanley Cup playoffs, including having them into early July. Bettman was asked about a postseason that would stretch into the league's typical offseason.

"That's a question that I can't answer right now. We're looking at all contingencies," he said on CNBC. "I hope that at some point we get back to a sense of normalcy. And that's not just my hope for the NHL."

There have been two seasons in NHL history in which the Stanley Cup was not awarded: in 1918-19 because of the Spanish flu and in 2004-05 because of a lockout.

For now, Martin Frk scoring with 4 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the Los Angeles Kings' 3-2 victory over visiting Ottawa on Wednesday stands as the final goal of the 2019-20 season.

"Public health and safety are a priority at a time like this,'' Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. "As players, we support the NHL and NHLPA's decision to suspend the season for the safety of the teams and their fans. We look forward to the day we can get back playing the game we love in front of full arenas."

Following St. Louis' 4-2 win at Anaheim, Blues coach Craig Berube was already wondering how to prepare for the unscheduled and indefinite time off.

"You can practice as much as you want, but without playing games, it is difficult," said Berube, who played 17 seasons in the NHL. "It's a bigger issue than a hockey game. We have to deal with what we have to. We have to keep ourselves in shape and as sharp as we can if we start up again.''

Dallas Stars forward Alexander Radulov has been sick, but team president Brad Alberts said players had not yet been tested. A message left for Radulov's agent by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

"If anybody in [our] organization gets [the] virus, obviously we'll have to test,'' Alberts said. "No testing in place and I think we've got a healthy group as of right now.''

Alberts added that the Stars would not be practicing during the league's hiatus. Asked what the best-case scenario is, Alberts said: "I think what everyone is hoping for is that we take a short pause over the next several weeks and in a month or so we can kind of get the season back reenergized.''

Several hockey leagues in Europe -- including in Switzerland and Germany -- already have canceled their playoffs. The International Ice Hockey Federation women's world championship in Nova Scotia, which was scheduled to begin later this month, has been canceled. TSN is reporting that the IIHF under-18 tourney in Michigan in April also has been called off, but the men's tournament in Switzerland in May is so far still on.

The National Women's Hockey League's Isobel Cup final, scheduled to be held this weekend in Boston, has been postponed.

The Harvard men's hockey team had decided Wednesday not to participate in the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament, ending its season, but then Thursday the entire event was canceled as a number of conferences called off their tournaments. USA Hockey announced Thursday that it was suspending play in its junior league, the USHL, and canceling all championships on a local level.

The spread of the COVID-19 virus, and its escalation to a pandemic, caused the NHL to accelerate its plans. On March 2, deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN the league was only beginning to "explore contingency plans" that included postponing or canceling games, or playing 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 at the time. "But certainly everything is possible, and we have to look at all possible contingencies. If it gets to that point, we will be ready."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.