TAMPA, Fla. — After having a night to sleep on it, NHL officials decided to suspend the league’s season Thursday because of the coronavirus outbreak.
In a statement released by the NHL, the league said it made the decision after consulting with medical experts and having a conference call with the league’s Board of Governors.
The league said that it did not have a timetable for how long it will be shut down, but that its goal was to resume “as soon as possible” and that it hoped to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup.
Teams were asked to find out about the availability of their arenas if the season stretched into July.
While the Flyers’ players and management were disappointed to see their promising season put on hold, they understood the decision.
“This is bigger than hockey, bigger than sports in general,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said at the team’s hotel in Tampa. “I think the commissioner and the board of governors made the only rational decision they could make at this point and time. Hopefully, it’s just a pause and the situation gets better and we have a chance to come back and play some meaningful hockey.”
"It’s something I can’t control, and if it’s something I can’t control, I can’t really get upset about it,” right winger Jake Voracek said. “It is what it is. I’ll just let other people [in the league] do their job because I don’t really know anything about it.”
The NHL said it has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, “while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures. However, following [Wednesday] night’s news that an NBA player had tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some members of the NHL community would test positive at some point — it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.”
The Flyers (41-21-7) are the NHL’s hottest team, having won nine of their last 10 games to get within one point of first-place Washington (41-20-8) in the Metropolitan Division. Both teams, along with third-place Pittsburgh (40-23-6), have 13 regular-season games remaining.
“I think everybody will handle it differently,” Voracek said of the layoff. “No one knows how it will reflect on teams.”
He mentioned a positive about the layoff from the Flyers’ standpoint.
“Everyone who is injured can heal up,” he said.
The Flyers have three players who are expected to be ready to play in two to four weeks: James van Riemsdyk, Phil Myers, and Nate Thompson.
The regular season had been scheduled to end April 4, but that now seems highly unlikely. The first round of the playoffs was slated to begin April 8, and that date also figures to be pushed back.
If, for some reason, the rest of the regular season was scrapped and the playoffs started on April 8 and were based on the current standings, the Flyers would play Pittsburgh in the first round.
Even though Thursday’s game in Tampa was postponed early in the afternoon, the Flyers planned to stay overnight in Florida and the team was scheduled to head to Philadelphia on Friday morning.
Until further notice, the league will not permit players to practice together during the layoff, Fletcher said.
“They can focus on themselves and their families and do their best to stay healthy,” he said.
Fletcher said the players will stay in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. “As the experts are saying, it’s probably not an ideal time to be traveling great distances,” he said. “It’s probably best for everybody to stay home and self-quarantine.”
The NHL followed the lead of the NBA, which suspended its season Wednesday night.
The Wells Fargo Center was scheduled to host two Flyers games this weekend, but the arena was closed on Thursday morning and underwent a rigorous cleaning.
The NBA postponed its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, the highly infectious disease that has spread worldwide. Gobert played 35 minutes against Detroit on Saturday. The Pistons played the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.
Fletcher said it “remains to be seen” whether the Flyers and those who work for the organization would be tested for the coronavirus.
Flyers broadcaster Steve Coates said suspending the season was "good news because if they didn’t handle it this way, it would spread much faster. It’s a preventative.”
The AHL, which includes the Flyers’ top farm team, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, also suspended its season Thursday until further notice.
In a statement, a Wells Fargo Center spokesman said all Flyers, Sixers and Wings home games are postponed until further notice, and that all other scheduled events through March 31 will be rescheduled.
Fans are asked to hold tickets as plans are made to reschedule events. Information will be shared as it becomes available, the spokesman said.
Staff writer Ed Barkowitz contributed to this report.