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Blackhawks owner supports decision to pause NHL season

Wirtz praises discussions, preaches creative thinking going forward

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Rocky Wirtz applauded the decision to pause the NHL regular season due to coronavirus and said he and other team owners worked together quickly on the matter.

"Everyone had to walk in lockstep," the Chicago Blackhawks owner said on the Mully & Haugh Show on 670 The Score on Monday. "We had a phone call on Thursday morning. I knew it was going to happen because the League said, 'Send all your players home.' The good thing about it is, that the owners all walked in lockstep. So we had 31 owners on the phone, and there was no discord or anything else. We realized this was a time for leadership, we had to get in front of it as much as possible."

The NBA suspended its season March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert preliminarily tested for COVID-19 (coronavirus). The NHL paused its season the next day.

"When I got home from the game on Wednesday when the word broke about Utah and [Gobert] testing positive, and I saw the replays of what went on, it was interesting," Wirtz said. "If the shoe had been on the other foot, and that had been a National Hockey League game and arena, [NHL Commissioner] Gary Bettman said he would've handled it the same way that [NBA Commissioner Adam] Silver did.

Wirtz said he and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf got their plan together to pay approximately 1,200 United Center day-of-game staff for postponed games Saturday. 

"We talked about it, we had a whole group on the phone [Friday], all the folks, Jerry was one of them. Then he called me at noon on Saturday said, 'This is crazy,'" Wirtz said. "He said, 'I just need to know the figures. You and I can make a decision.' We have 14 home games, seven and seven [for the Bulls and Blackhawks each]. How much a game, add it up, it's about $3.5 million. He said, 'We have to take care of these people.' And I said, 'Absolutely. So let's get ahead of it, let's just calm everyone down, have complete empathy.' People going from paycheck to paycheck are scared, and rightfully so.

"Jerry is such a class act, it took two minutes. I've never seen him take a note. His word is his bond and that's why we get along so well. It's flat decision making and we just did it. I said, 'Let's get the powers that be, get the word out and be done with it.'"

The Blackhawks (32-30-8) are six points behind the Nashville Predators for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. It's uncertain when or if the NHL will play its remaining regular-season games. If they are played, Wirtz said it should be an interesting finish.

"It's going to be like the stretch of a horse race, all of a sudden everyone's going to be even-steven," Wirtz said. "I think it's going to be truly exciting. As you know, last year with [the St. Louis Blues] winning the Cup, anything can happen. I think we're going to see that again, that anything can happen. After we get by this thing, I'm excited, but it's uncharted waters. Who knows what the playoff format's going to be? I mean, who knows? I think we can see a lot. This is a time for really creative thinking, going forward, depending on how long this thing lasts."

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