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NHL says coronavirus could impact plans to have preseason games in China

Deputy Commissioner Daly also discusses Olympics, Capitals playing in Russia

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The NHL continues to hope to play preseason games in China in the fall but is closely monitoring the spread of the coronavirus that originated there, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday.

The League played preseason games in China in 2017 and 2018 before not sending teams there in 2019 because of logistical issues with booking arenas. Plans to return to China for the 2020 preseason have yet to be announced and Deputy Commissioner Daly indicated they could be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak that began in China in December and has rapidly become a global concern.

"We're monitoring," Deputy Commissioner Daly said while attending the game between the Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena on Tuesday. "It's hard not to monitor it. It seems to be coming closer to us every time, every day that goes by. Certainly, it impacts what our plans will be in China in the future and in the relatively near future."

According to the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus has spread throughout China and to 31 other countries and territories, including the United States. As of Feb. 23, there were 76,936 reported cases in mainland China and 1,875 cases outside of mainland China.

Dick Pound of the International Olympic Committee told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be in jeopardy of being canceled if the viral outbreak isn't under sufficient control in the next two-three months. 

The NHL is waiting before making any decision on about going back to in China before next season.  

"Obviously we haven't announced any games there for next year," Deputy Commissioner Daly sad. "I think there was certainly a hope that we would be able to play preseason games there next year. I would say that hope probably continues to exist, but as time goes on, it becomes far more problematic."

Among the other topics Deputy Commissioner Daly discussed Tuesday was the possibility of the Capitals playing regular-season games in Russia. The Capitals have five Russian players, including captain Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Ilya Samsonov and Ilya Kovalchuk, and expressed interest in playing games in Russia, but logistics to do it next season could not be worked out.

"For a variety of reasons, those plans didn't come together," Deputy Commissioner Daly said. "I think we're going to kind of work, kind of re-trench again to figure out whether there's a better strategy to try to make that happen. I know the Caps have an interest in doing that, and if not in Russia, I know they have an interest in playing internationally, so we're going to look to accommodate that interest for sure. 

"Obviously, the Caps, high profile in our league, good international content, it just makes sense to bring them overseas."

Although Deputy Commissioner Daly characterized a meeting with the IOC earlier this month as positive, he said the League's owners remain opposed to participating in the 2022 Beijing Olympics after skipping the 2018 PyeongChang Games. 

"Clearly, it was the first time in recent memory that the IOC acknowledged some of our concerns vis a vis expense reimbursement and shared some of our views with respect to being commercial partners with them," the Deputy Commissioner said. "So, I think it was a very positive meeting. Overall, our owners have made a decision that generally Olympic participation is nothing that the League would favor. 

"But we also understand it's important to our players, and so it's part of a complicated mix of issues we have to work through."

Deputy Commissioner Daly said he expects the Carolina Hurricanes opponent for the 2021 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina, to be announced within the next 30 days. He wouldn't comment on reports that the Capitals will not be the opponent.

The Deputy Commissioner also said a grievance filed by the NHL Players' Association on behalf of Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien remains unresolved. Byfuglien, who had ankle surgery in October, was suspended by the Jets without pay after he did not report for training camp and has not played this season.

"We're continuing to work through various scenarios with the Players' Association and the club, as between the club and the player," Deputy Commissioner Daly said. "Obviously, the way grievances work, is under the collective bargaining agreement, it's really the parties are the League and the Players' Association. But in this case, it's really more of an individual contract issue, so kind of all four parties are involved and we're trying to work out a sensible solution."

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