The NHL followed the NBA’s lead yesterday by halting the remainder of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioner Gary Bettman hopes to resume the season at some point in the near future.
“I’m a little hesitant to use the word suspension, because our hope and our expectation is, when things get back to normal and it’s safe and it’s prudent, that we can go back and resume the season and ultimately have the Stanley Cup awarded,” Bettman said.
Along with the NHL and NBA, the MLB has canceled spring training and is delaying the start of their regular season by at least two weeks. The NCAA has canceled both Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, in addition to all spring and winter NCAA championships. The XFL and MLS have both suspended their seasons; while the PGA Tour has canceled all tournament play until the Master’s, which is scheduled for April 9th – 12th. Universities such as Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame have all canceled their spring football games.
“My hope is that at some point we’ll get back to some normalcy,” Bettman said. “And that’s not just my hope for the NHL, and it’s not just my hope for all sports, it’s my hope for everything that’s going on.”
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced that all Chicago sports teams should either cancel home games outright or ban fan attendance until May. So even if the NHL decides to resume the season in the near future, the Blackhawks may be playing in an empty United Center. The governor also mandated that events with more than 1,000 people be canceled or postponed for at least 30 days.
“It would be crazy to hear an anthem at the United Center without the cheers,” Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy said. But that’s out of our control. We just play under whatever circumstances, but that would be really hard ‘cause obviously the fans are the most important part.”
The hiatus can be seen as either a blessing or a curse for the Blackhawks, who are currently six points out of the last Wild Card spot with 12 games remaining in their season. The Hawks — who have been decimated with season-ending injuries this year in Brent Seabrook, Calvin de Haan and Andrew Shaw — would have to leap over four teams to attain the last playoff seed. Inconsistency has been the overwhelming theme of this year, with decent winning streaks separated by prolonged losing streaks.
On the heels of a four-game winning streak and a two-game losing streak, the Blackhawks defeated the San Jose Sharks in what would be their final game before the stoppage. Winning convincingly by a score of 6-2, the Hawks would unknowingly give their home fans a nice send-off with a dominant offensive explosion. Patrick Kane would score two goals and rookie Dominik Kubalik would score his 30th goal of the year. The Hawks’ anemic power play would even get in on the action by scoring two goals; with rookies Brandon Hagel and Nicolas Beaudin making respectable NHL debuts. For a game that wound up being their last indefinitely, the night was full of promise for the Blackhawks, even if their playoff chances this year were slim at best.
Assuming the league eventually resumes the 2020 season, it will be interesting to see if this hiatus will rejuvenate the Hawks or if they will simply continue their inconsistent and streaky play — either way, fans can only hope to find out sooner rather than later; and eventually, rather than never.