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NHL monitoring coronavirus, preparing contingency plans

Commissioner Bettman says League 'focused on all possibilities' but waiting to see how situation evolves

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The NHL is monitoring the coronavirus and making contingency plans while continuing to play the regular season and prepare for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL has barred League employees from overseas business travel. Those who make personal trips to affected countries must be quarantined out of the office for two weeks upon their return to see if symptoms arise.

The NHL has informed teams of its policy, but at this point each team is making its own decisions on overseas business travel. Some European scouting has been disrupted.

"What we can do is take it a day at a time and see what the experts in the field are telling us," Commissioner Bettman said as the NHL general managers meetings ended Wednesday.

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL is communicating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and with Health Canada, talking to the other three major sports leagues in North America, and constantly updating the teams.

The coronavirus has killed 3,200 people, the vast majority in China, CNN reported. There are now more than 92,000 cases around the world, with infections in more than 70 countries.

Officials in the United States have confirmed nine deaths and more than 100 cases, The Washington Post reported. Officials in Canada have confirmed no deaths and 33 cases, The Canadian Press reported.

The IIHF has canceled six U-18 tournaments in Europe in March. It will wait until March 15 before addressing the World Championship, scheduled for May 8-24 in Switzerland.

Switzerland's National League postponed its playoffs until at least March 15 after the Swiss government banned events with more than 1,000 spectators.

Asked about the NHL's contingency plans, Commissioner Bettman said: "We're aware of and focused on all possibilities, but at this point it would be premature to pick any one of the possibilities, especially because it may or may not become necessary in North America, which is why we're staying current. We're staying in communication with everyone appropriate, and we'll deal with it if and when the time comes."

Commissioner Bettman declined to speculate about what the CDC or Health Canada might say in the future. He also said the impact of the coronavirus might vary by location, with local officials determining what must be done in their area.

"We're aware of what's happening in other places in the world, and we understand that things may evolve or change, and we also understand that we're going to have to react to it in a professional and timely and sensible basis," Commissioner Bettman said. "But I don't think, as we sit here today, people should get too far ahead of themselves in terms of how they either react to this or report this. Let's see how it all evolves."

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL has been advising teams on proper precautions.

"Our clubs at the medical level, the training level and the player level are pretty informed as to what is wise and prudent conduct under the circumstances," he said.

Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said the Flames have spent a lot of time internally redeploying scouts and being prepared because of the situation in Europe.

"You've got to take leadership for your staff, making sure you're not putting them in tough situations," he said. "But for right now, it's business as usual until you find out otherwise."

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