The coronavirus already is having a ripple effect on the 2020-21 National Hockey League season. Under normal circumstances, pucks would have already dropped all over North America.
But these times are anything but normal.
The NHL announced Thursday the league is postponing the upcoming Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend until 2022, pending decisions on when play will begin and when fans can again attend games.
Those dual postponements do “not impact the joint declaration by the NHL and National Hockey League Players’ Association that we are targeting on or around Jan. 1 as the start date for the upcoming NHL season,” the NHL said in a statement from the league office in New York.
The annual outdoor Winter Classic had been scheduled for New Year’s Day as usual, this year between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues at Target Field in Minneapolis, the home of baseball’s Minnesota Twins.
All-Star Weekend was scheduled for Jan. 29-30 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., the home of the Florida Panthers.
The league said it “intends to return to both Minnesota and Florida with these signature events in the near future.”
“Fan participation, both in arenas and stadiums as well as in the ancillary venues and events that we stage around the Winter Classic and All-Star Weekend, is integral to the success of our signature events,” said Steve Mayer, the NHL’s senior executive vice president and chief content officer.
The league’s 31 teams have not played a single game in front of fans in home arenas since taking a pause in the 2019-20 season on March 12 as COVID-19 began to spread around the world.
That was the same day Major League Baseball delayed its season for four months and a day after the NBA took a break because several players tested positive for the disease, which as of Wednesday has killed 222,786 in the U.S. and 9,908 in Canada.
The NHL played its main playoff and qualifying rounds in Edmonton and Toronto bubbles, concluding Sept. 30 with the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Dallas Stars in six games to win the Stanley Cup. Though the league made it through the bubble without a single positive test, the NHL counts fans in the seats as an integral part of its future.
“Because of the uncertainty as to when we will be able to welcome our fans back to our games, we felt that the prudent decision at this time was to postpone these celebrations until 2022 when our fans should be able to enjoy and celebrate these tentpole events in-person, as they were always intended,” Mayer said. “We are also considering several new and creative events that will allow our fans to engage with our games and teams during this upcoming season.”