(Reuters) - The National Hockey League suspended its season on Thursday due to the global coronavirus outbreak which could prevent the league from awarding a Stanley Cup champion for only the third time in its history.
The decision, announced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement after an emergency conference call with the board of governors, came a day after the NBA suspended its season until further notice after a player tested positive for coronavirus.
Bettman said that since NHL teams share facilities and locker rooms with NBA clubs it now seems likely a member of the NHL community will test positive at some point and therefore it was no longer appropriate to play games.
“We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we will encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions – including by self-quarantine, where appropriate,” said Bettman.
“Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.”
The NHL has 24 teams in the United States and seven in Canada, and the league’s original schedule shows the last day of the 2019-20 regular season listed as April 4 with the Stanley Cup Playoffs starting the following week and ending in mid-June.
Both the end of regular season and last possible date for the Stanley Cup Final (June 13) may have to be adjusted depending on how long play remains suspended.
Only twice before has the Stanley Cup not been awarded: in 1919 because of the Spanish flu; and in 2005 when the season was called off due to a lockout.
The NHL Players Association called the temporary suspension an appropriate course of action and said it will remain in daily discussions with the league, medical consultants and players.
“The players are looking forward to the opportunity to resume play in front of hockey fans everywhere,” the NHLPA said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, the NHL advised its clubs to refrain from holding morning skates, practices or meetings while it considered how best to deal with the coronavirus threat.
A number of NHL teams supported the NHL’s decision and said the health and safety of players, staff and fans is their top priority.
“This is obviously a tough and disappointing decision for everyone, but one that is appropriate to prioritize the safety of our fans, partners, players and staff,” the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have one of the NHL’s best records, said in a statement.
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Ken Ferris and Ed Osmond