Hextall on Hockey: The NHL’s response to the novel coronavirus

The Winnipeg Jets' Nicholas Shore is chased by Edmonton Oiler Riley Sheahan during third-period NHL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks both announced on Wednesday that they will play home games without fans in attendance after local and state governments declared mass gatherings would be banned because of coronavirus concerns.

READ MORE: NHL suspends its season amid coronavirus pandemic

The Blue Jackets have five home games left on their schedule and will see each played in an empty Nationwide Arena. The Sharks also have a handful of home games left in the regular season but have committed to just three being played to without fans, saying ticket holders would receive a credit or a refund.

By all accounts, this is just the start.

While the NBA has suspended its season and Major League Baseball has discussed a delayed start to its season as a result of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, the NHL is a few weeks away from prime time: the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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This means the NHL is also weeks away from the top revenue portion of its season. If the league is forced to play in empty arenas on a mass level, it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This will hurt hockey-related revenues, which would likely see the expected salary cap increase disappear.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Fate of NHL’s season unclear amid NBA suspension over positive COVID-19 test

The ripple effect doesn’t stop there. It wouldn’t shock the hockey world if the NHL draft in Montreal is cancelled this year. There is so much at stake for the NHL, but if the league doesn’t act, there is even more at stake: the health of its players, staff and fans.

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As someone who occupies rinks on a regular basis, I’m not panicked about COVID-19, but a virus that has been declared a pandemic is not to be ignored. I would suggest that hockey fans, including Winnipeg Jets fans, prepare the couch for some increased TV time, as a mandate for all 31 NHL teams may just be the next step.

Don’t forget to wash your hands, hockey fans!

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