NHL

NHL delays possible restart date, allows players to go home

The NHL is pushing back the possibility of resuming its season for several weeks, if not a month or more, after the league and Players' Association told players Monday they can go home and must self-isolate through March 27 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Under new timeline, league facilities wouldn't open until late April at earliest

In a memo Monday, the NHL told its players, including Flames teammates Mark Giordano, left, and Mikael Backlund, right, they could return home and must self-isolate until the end of the month to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press/File)

The NHL is pushing back the possibility of resuming its season for 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 it will not be able to even provide guidance on the potential reopening of team practices for another 45 days, which could make May the earliest possible restart date.

The new directives come on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S. for the next eight weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic. Under the NHL's new timeline, it would mean facilities would not be opened until 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.

The league said "depending on world developments," consideration will be given to reopening practice facilities after the self-quarantine period ends in late March.

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," commissioner Gary Bettman had not put a time frame on when the NHL could resume play.

Euro players scramble to return to 'safest environment'

"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. And what we're doing is, we're modelling every conceivable alternative so that when it's appropriate to go back to work, we will know what our options and our alternatives are."

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.

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 similarly changed. Those facilities are currently closed to players.

"We'll be constantly in touch with the NHL and constantly re-evaluating," NHLPA executive director Don 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. That was in light of the minor league ECHL's decision to cancel the rest of its season.

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 during the Spanish flu outbreak and 2005 because of a lockout.

Sabres player stuck in transit

In Buffalo, New York, Sabres forward Marcus Johansson initially hoped to travel home to Sweden on a flight out of nearby Toronto. Those plans changed when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the country was shutting its borders except to Canadians and Americans, while also imposing a 14-day self-quarantine to those entering the country.

Johansson was instead attempting to book a flight home through New York City.

In an email to The AP, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there was little the league could do regarding travel restrictions.

"It's a consequence of where we find ourselves. Nobody's fault," Daly wrote.

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 under contract 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.

Other hockey notes

  • Arizona Coyotes defenceman Aaron Ness became the first NHL player publicly 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, 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.

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