Bolts try to make sense of an uncertain situation
The main focus right now is making sure things are handled properly while the season is on pauseby Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL / TampaBayLightning.com
When they woke up Thursday morning, Tampa Bay Lightning players and staff were preparing for the team's game at AMALIE Arena against the Philadelphia Flyers, just as they would for any other game during the regular season.
A couple hours into the day, however, proved this one would be unlike any other.
A little less than an hour before the Lightning were expected to hold their typical morning skate, the NHL sent out a notice advising clubs not to hold morning skates, practices or team meetings during the day.
By 2 p.m., the League announced what seemed inevitable as the hours passed: the NHL would pause the season starting with Thursday night's games in light of ongoing developments resulting from the coronavirus.
So where does that leave us?
That's a question we're all trying to figure out.
"Coming to the rink, we were preparing like we were going to play," Lightning forward Alex Killorn said via a conference call with local media later in the day once the team was sent home and the season paused. "We had our meetings this morning. It was only at 10:30 or 11 - I don't know what time it was - we were told that we were supposed to leave the rink. Obviously, there were talks and stuff amongst the locker room trying to figure out what was going on, rumors and stuff, but nothing was concrete. At a certain time when we were told to leave the arena and wait for further notice, that's what we were going to do in terms of practice and stuff like that. Obviously certain events were being cancelled, so we're just kind of waiting to hear about the future."
In his released statement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the League's goal is to resume play when it is "appropriate and prudent" so that they can complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.
As a team that has serious Stanley Cup aspirations this season and was ranked third overall points-wise entering Thursday, the Lightning are certainly hoping today's pause is just that and not an eventual cancellation of the season.
At this point, however, the resumption of the season is on the backburner while the welfare of the community and trying to prevent the rapid spread of the virus are more pressing concerns.
"Right now, the main thing is kind of just making sure everything is handled properly," Killorn said. "There are more important things. The safety and lives of people in this country are more important than that. I think later on we could start thinking about (resuming the season), but I haven't thought about it yet to be honest."
There's another concern for the Lightning too. Rudy Gobert of the National Basketball Association's Utah Jazz tested presumptive positive for coronavirus Wednesday night, the test results being learned minutes before the Jazz were to tipoff against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City. Once word got to officials, the players were sent back to their locker rooms and an announcement was made the game had been suspended.
A concern for the Lightning is during their recent three-game road trip, they played in Boston the night after the Jazz played the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. The Bolts also faced off against the Red Wings a day after the Jazz played in Little Caesars Arena against the Detroit Pistons.
The basketball and hockey locker rooms at Little Caesars Arena are separate, but at TD Garden, the Lightning moved into a locker room that had been occupied by the Jazz the previous night.
The Lightning released a statement saying in both arenas deep cleaning and sanitization took place in the Bolts' locker rooms prior to their arrival. With no actual contact with an infected person, risk levels are low, and as the teams players and staff are at no greater risk than the general population to contract the virus and nobody from hockey operations is experiencing symptoms, they were not subject to testing at this time.
"That was also something we had seen on Twitter that we were kind of following (the Jazz) around, that we had played in Boston and Detroit after they had played there," Killorn said. "We got an email from our training staff telling us that there had been a lot of precaution and a lot of certain things done to the room to make sure they had been disinfected. I know in Detroit we didn't share any of the same rooms. The basketball team has a different locker room…Boston, I guess they took all the steps necessary to kind of disinfect everything."
That's the thing. This whole situation is uncertain, and until we have a firmer grasp on the implications of the virus and the damage it can do to people and even our society, we should take every precautionary measure necessary.
Which made today's pause of the NHL season a sound and reasonable decision.
As for how to proceed going forward, Lightning players are pretty much in limbo like the rest of us, but the league is expected to provide some direction to hockey operations departments in the next 48 hours.
"We haven't really been told if we're going to practice or if we're going to be moving around, what's going to happen if we're going to have workouts," Killorn said. "We've been told to just go home and we're going to hear sooner rather than later what the next steps are. I have no idea. We're going to have to keep in shape somehow."