On March 12, the day after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 and the NBA postponed its season, the NHL Board of Governors held an emergency conference call to determine the league’s course of action. The most urgent business was completed without debate: After offering his recommendation that the NHL promptly suspend games too, commissioner Gary Bettman opened the floor for objections.
“There wasn’t a peep,” one governor says. “It was silent.”
That was the easy part. The hard part involved all of the questions that came next: What were the financial implications of freezing a billion-dollar business? When would the 2019–20 regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs resume, if ever? And, perhaps most pressingly, what should teams do if a player came down with symptoms of or tested positive for the novel coronavirus?
No one in NHL circles had been diagnosed at the time, but that was viewed by league officials as all but certain to change, in large part due to the frequent arena overlap among NHL and NBA teams. The previous night, Jazz players had been directed by the Oklahoma State Health Department to be tested for the virus in the visiting locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena; their opponent, the Thunder, were now being instructed to do the same. With the nation facing a testing shortage, one NHL owner on the call wondered whether their team should consider obtaining them en masse for its players and personnel as a precaution.