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Flames provide update on 'pausing' of NHL season

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

We'll be back. 

But when, we just don't know. 

The National Hockey League has officially "paused" the 2019-20 season amid concerns over the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The league released a statement on Thursday after an emergency conference call with the Board of Governors.


Video: Flames update the pausing of season due to COVID-19


The NHL is hoping to resume play "as soon as it is appropriate and prudent," with the goal of awarding the Stanley Cup, as usual. However, as this is a rapidly evolving global pandemic, the league will heed the advice of medical experts and local authorities across North America to determine next steps. 

"These are uncharted waters," General Manager Brad Treliving said during a press conference late Thursday. "This is unprecedented. So, you do what you do every day - you get up and figure out how to move forward. 

"There have been some challenges (this season), no doubt, and I think it's hardened our group. But this is different. This goes beyond hockey. You go through your own trials and tribulations as a team, or as individuals throughout a season, but this is different, this is bigger than our game, and it's one of those things where there are so many people affected by it. 

"Let's make sure everybody's OK, let's take the proper steps and in the right amount of time, we'll re-boot and figure out how and when we get back going."

It was likely to be a seismic day in the sporting world, with news that NBA star Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus late Wednesday, shortly before a game between Gobert's Utah Jazz faced the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Once the results were known, the NBA immediately suspended their season, began testing fellow Jazz players, and ordered players on both teams, the Toronto Raptors and others who have been in close contact recently, to self-quarantine.

It truly is an unprecedented time in the NHL. 

There's no handbook, no guidelines. 

"It moved fast," Treliving said. "It probably wasn't until last night - and obviously we all saw the situation in the NBA where things really sped up, for lack of a better word. But over the course of the last week to 10 days, we'd made some contingency plans - hoping that you don't get to the day that we got to today. 

"But, really, with what's transpiring and what's going on, I don't think there's any other decision that could be made."

So, now, we wait. 

At the time of this writing, players from all 31 teams are shacked up in their homes awaiting further instructions. Teams are not permitted to practice during the break, but additional guidelines are expected to be delivered to each club sometime in the next 24 hours.

Will the players have access to team facilities? Are they permitted to rent ice on their own, or even fly home if they happen to live away from their families?

"We'll see," Treliving said. "I think anytime that we can control the environment, it's better. The less traffic, the better,

"But we'll see. 

"All those things are backseat right now to making sure that, No. 1, the health and safety of everybody - outside the organization, inside the organization - gets taken care of first. 

"We've got enough smart people to figure out what to do next."


Video: John Bean and Brad Treliving address the media


Currently, no Flames players have been tested for the virus, nor have any exhibited symptoms. Treliving says that, in consultation with Alberta Health Services, testing is not required "unless you have symptoms or have travelled to an infected area, or have been in a high-risk situation."

Resuming the season is the goal - but protecting the health and safety on everyone on earth is the priority, he added.

Only twice in the NHL's 102-year history has the Stanley Cup not been awarded. 

The 1919 Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans was cancelled, five games in, as a result of the Spanish flu. The other was when the 2004-05 work stoppage wiped out the entire regular season and playoffs.

So, there is precedent - and even one case directly tied to a viral outbreak.

There are many questions still to be answered and John Bean - the President & CEO of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation (CSEC) -said an FAQ is currently being developed and will be available on shortly.  

"I think we should all take a deep breath here and understand what we're all facing," Bean said. " … I think (we need) to take a step back and understand the health and safety of all of us. I'm talking all citizens here. This is well beyond the sport of hockey that we're dealing with."

Until the virus can be contained or we, as a society, can 'flatten the curve' and limit the stress on our healthcare system, the "pause" will be indefinite. 

But the steps taken today will aid in those efforts across North America.

"The whole organization, we've got a role to play as leaders," Treliving said. "As much as we get caught up in the mundane of our day, there's a defining moment where that just stops and you know there's a bigger cause, a bigger priority, where true leadership is required. 

"That's part of today, giving that message out. 

"What we do, we think, means a lot, but there are other things that are more important. 

"And this is much more important."

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