As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) rears its head around the United States, everyone from sports leagues to state and local governments are taking significant precautions to prevent its spread. In the last few days, we’ve seen the NHL close its locker rooms to limit possible contamination between media and players.
But another move outside the NHL’s jurisdiction may put San Jose Sharks home games at risk. Santa Clara County, where the Shark’s home arena SAP Center is located, issued a ban on all gatherings of over 1,000 persons in response to the first COVID-19 related death in their region. The move puts the remainder of the Sharks’ home games for the 2019-20 season in jeopardy.
Sharks Adhering to Guidelines
The Sharks have just five remaining home games this season, as they begin a four-game road trip on Wednesday against the Chicago Blackhawks. Those dwindling home matchups include:
- Mar. 19 against the Montreal Canadiens
- Mar. 21 against the Boston Bruins
- Mar. 29 against the Arizona Coyotes
- Apr. 2 against the Dallas Stars
- Apr. 4 against the Anaheim Ducks
The nine-day gap before their next home contest gives the Sharks some time to analyze their situation. But for now, they seem fully committed to adhering to their county’s guidelines, which for the time being would put the SAP Center off limits for large crowds.
Sharks Sports & Entertainment did add: “we will be reviewing each scheduled event due to take place for the rest of the month and provide an update in the coming days. We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans, guests and partners during this unprecedented time.”
Given the exact wording of the guideline, the simplest solution to the Sharks’ conundrum is to play games in an empty arena. Fortunately — at least for this situation — the Sharks are not in a playoff position. But several of their remaining home opponents are, which could create for a uniquely silent playoff atmosphere.
Kane, Other Players Concerned
Some players are understandably concerned about the prospect of playing in an empty arena. Sharks forward Evander Kane admitted, “it would be very strange to play in an empty building.”
Meanwhile, backup goaltender Aaron Dell seemed less alarmed, saying “If that’s what they do, that’s what they do. I don’t think it would make a huge difference to me. It would be kind of weird. It would be really, really quiet. But if that’s what they have to do, that’s what they have to do” (from ‘Sharks’ home games might be played in an empty arena due to coronavirus warnings,’ The Athletic NHL, 9 Mar. 2020).
If the Sharks are forced to play without fans, it wouldn’t be a first in hockey history. During the winter, events are occasionally canceled or altered due to inclement weather. Most recently, an American Hockey League game between the Charlotte Checkers and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2018 took place in an empty arena, with available personnel filling irregular roles.
While these NHL players seem more willing to play in an empty arena than basketball superstar LeBron James, that isn’t the only option. The Sharks also might elect to play games at a neutral site, though, according to The Athletic, some of the most logical venues would be ill-equipped to host hockey.
Fortunately, these concerns arose late in a disastrous Sharks’ season. No team in a playoff position has expressed any concern about the future of their home games yet. If that happens, the NHL will have a massive question to answer, as the health and safety of its fans ought to come first no matter the circumstance.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.