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NHL suspends play beginning Thursday amid coronavirus pandemic

A woman wearing a mask walked through North Station near a poster of Bruins goalkeeper Tuukka Rask on Thursday.Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff

It was just after 10:40 a.m. Thursday, and Bruins defenseman Torey Krug was not lacing his skates and hitting the ice with his teammates. He was in his street clothes outside the building, chatting with an acquaintance about the unknown.

“See you in a few weeks,” Krug said, as they parted ways.

Krug’s words carried a note of cautious optimism, but it was unclear then, and remained so Thursday evening, when he would skate again.

After 1 p.m. Thursday, the NHL followed the NBA and other sports leagues in pausing its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. It left 189 games, beginning with 10 on Thursday, and the final 24 days of the NHL season as “TBD.”


The Bruins, leading the league in points (100) and in the hunt for their first Stanley Cup championship since 2011, and their peers were sent home with hopes to return, but no promises.

‘The health of our fans, players, staff, and all of our associates is paramount, and we are hopeful that we can continue the season when it is safe to resume. We will provide Bruins updates when available, and on behalf of the organization we would like to wish good health to all.’

Bruins president Cam Neely

In a statement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the league had been trying 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 has tested positive for coronavirus — and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member 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.”

NBA players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, both of the Utah Jazz, tested positive for Covid-19, the virus that, as of Thursday evening, had been detected in more than 125,000 people worldwide and killed more than 4,600. In the United States there were 987 known cases, with 29 deaths.

Since March 4, the Jazz played at New York’s Madison Square Garden, TD Garden in Boston, and Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, all of which share back-of-the-house space with NHL teams. There has not been a “Patient Zero” in the NHL, but the league advised its teams to not hold practices or meetings indefinitely.


Bruins communications director Brandon McNelis did not respond to Globe questions asking if any Bruins players or staff had been tested for Covid-19, or quarantined.

Team president Cam Neely said in a series of statements released by the club that it was “disappointed to have the season put on pause,” but respected and supported the NHL’s decision, which was also backed by the NHL Players Association.

“The health of our fans, players, staff, and all of our associates is paramount, and we are hopeful that we can continue the season when it is safe to resume,” Neely said. “We will provide Bruins updates when available, and on behalf of the organization we would like to wish good health to all.”

What's next for Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins?Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s also unclear if Warrior Ice Arena was closed to players for training during the layoff, or where players would train.

Longtime player agent Matt Keator, of Wellesley, was fielding a stream of calls and texts from his clients, which include Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, about the next steps. He was searching for answers.

“I think everyone is in shock,” said Keator, an agent for 24 years, in a telephone conversation. “The entire industry is shutting down … It’s a surreal day.”


Keator compared this week’s uncertainty to that of the canceled 2004-05 season, the only other time since 1918-19 (when the Spanish Flu epidemic cut short the Final) the Stanley Cup was not awarded. He said his players would try to stay in shape, anticipating a restart in 2-4 weeks. Keator was hopeful the Cup would be awarded before Aug. 1, since the NHL reportedly told its teams to assess arena availability for July.

Before the rush of playoff hockey, the world must contain a highly contagious disease. Quite a thing.

“Today’s news is difficult to process for our team, our staff, our city, and our fans everywhere,” said Chara, who turns 43 next week and is in his 22nd season. “As players, we love being able to compete and feed off the passion of our fans, but we understand that this challenge facing our world is much bigger than sports. We fully respect the NHL’s decision today and wish everyone good health until we can once again come together to celebrate the game we love.”

During previous labor strife — the 2004-05 lockout, the half-seasons of 1994-95 and 2012-13 — many players skated in European or minor leagues. Given the near-universal postponement of hockey worldwide, that is an impossibility.

Matt Grzelcyk and David Krejci celebrate a goal in a 2-0 win over the Flyers earlier this week. Will it be the last game of the regular season for the Bruins?Drew Hallowell/Getty

The AHL’s Providence Bruins, who have surged to the top of the Eastern Conference with a 12-game winning streak, also saw their season put on hold. That league acted in lockstep with the NHL — and rest of the sports world, given the current climate.


Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Thursday was “disappointing, but it’s the prudent thing to do in these uncertain times … Hopefully the situation improves to a point where we can resume hockey and compete for the Stanley Cup, but until then please remain safe and healthy.”

If the regular season is rendered complete, and the NHL reopens in playoff mode, a few teams could be disappointed.

When the NHL paused, its teams had played an uneven number of games (between 68 and 71). Seeding the playoffs based on point total wouldn’t be fair. Creating matchups by points percentage, the Bruins (44-14-12) would finish first overall (.714) and have home ice throughout the playoffs. In the first round they would face the Islanders, who sat out of the postseason with 80 points, but would knock the Blue Jackets (81 points) from the second wild card based on points percentage. The Panthers and Rangers, both in the hunt, wouldn’t get the last few weeks of the season to make a push.

The rest of the Eastern Conference series — Tampa Bay-Toronto, Washington-Carolina, and Philadelphia-Pittsburgh — would be entertaining. The West would be plenty spicy, too, with St. Louis-Calgary, Colorado-Dallas, Vegas-Nashville, and Edmonton-Vancouver. Unfortunately for Winnipeg (in playoff position by 2 points as of Thursday) and Minnesota (a point out), those teams would miss the cut.

If the NHL were to award trophies, David Pastrnak would be co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as top goal scorer (48; tied with Alex Ovechkin). Pastrnak (48-47—95) would place fourth in league scoring, and be a candidate for the Hart Trophy (MVP). Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak would win the Jennings Trophy as the goalies with the lowest team goals-against average (2.39). Rask, with a 26-8-6 record, 2.12 GAA, .929 save percentage, and five shutouts in 41 starts, would be a leading candidate for the Vezina Trophy.


Those debates will be a welcome change from Thursday’s reality.

“The situation," Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron said, “is much larger than sports.”

Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him @mattyports.