The 2019-20 NHL season has been officially suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While sport is certainly secondary to the health of players and the public, this decision is not without huge ramifications. Pausing the season so close to playoff time will have a huge impact on all teams in the postseason picture, including the Winnipeg Jets.
The ramifications will be different based on how long the pause lasts and the decisions the league makes in the coming days and weeks.
The Best Case Scenario
Currently, the season is simply on pause and the NHL intends to “resume play as season as it is appropriate and prudent so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup,” according to the release.
Picking up the season where it left off when appropriate would be the purest and fairest way of handling things. The NHL is asking teams to provide arena building availability through the end of July, Frank Seravalli reports.
The Jets, after beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Wednesday, own the Western Conference’s first wild card spot and a 37-28-6 record with 11 games to go.
Right now, no teams are allowed to travel, meet, or practice. “For now, it’s go home… and stay home until further notice,” Darren Dreger tweeted.
One silver lining is that injured players around the league will have time to recover, and that could make the playoffs even more exciting. However, that would only be the case if the suspension is a short one, which doesn’t seem likely.
Long Delay Likely, Could Push Jets out of Playoffs
According to infectious disease expert Dr. Andrew Morris, it’s “totally unlikely the NHL will return to action within a month because the risks of spreading the coronavirus is too high,” TSN reports.
If the delay stretches out too long and the NHL is forced to jump right into the playoffs, they have some huge decisions to make. If they simply went by today’s standings, the Jets would be in and face the Vegas Golden Knights.
However, it’d be fairer to award the top eight teams by winning percentage in each Conference a playoff spot, since not all squads have played the same number of games. If that were to occur, the Jets would be out, painfully by a single percentage point. That’d be a real kick in the hockey pants.
Losing out on a playoff berth in this fashion would be especially painful as the Jets are finally healthy after suffering injury after injury all season long and were really on a roll, winning five of their past six games before the hiatus and looking like a fearsome potential playoff competitor.
If they don’t want to jump right into playoffs, the NHL could also allow each team to get to a certain number of regular season games, in order to give bubble teams the chance to earn a spot and let teams get back to speed before a run at Lord Stanley’s Mug.
This situation is very fluid and seems to be changing hour-by-hour. There’s really nothing to do but keep monitoring the situation over the coming days.
It’s a Shame, But the Sports World Has Been Shuttered
While everyone’s unhappy with the developments, nobody’s angry. Commissioner Gary Bettman got no opposition from owners in a conference call Thursday.
The NHL had no choice but to suspend its season after the National Basketball Association did the same Wednesday night in the wake of Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert testing positive for coronavirus. Since the NHL and NBA have shared venues and facilities, it would have been irresponsible to allow players to continue to be in those facilities and risk further spreading the disease that has killed nearly 5,000 people worldwide. Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball have since followed suit and March Madness has also been cancelled.
Watching hockey can be an escape from everyday life, and selfishly, the writer was looking forward to getting his Patrik Laine bobblehead next Tuesday and going to the fan appreciation game later this month against the Vegas Golden Knights at Bell MTS Place.
However, the NHL — like all other major sports leagues — is erring on the side of extreme caution, especially since one person with coronavirus at a mass gathering could infect thousands of others.
We can only hope that the season becomes safe to resume sooner than later. Whatever solution the NHL Board of Governors comes up with to mitigate the impact of the pause will be imperfect and unprecedented, but these are imperfect and unprecedented times, to say the least.
Hockey and other sports may not be back any time soon. For now, keep washing your hands, stay home if you feel sick, and maybe take up a new hobby to fill the void. The author, for example, enjoys baking and has plenty of butter and flour on hand.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.