The NHL did not immediately stay in lockstep with the NBA in the wake of the basketball league's decision to suspend its season Wednesday night after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for novel coronavirus.
But it's clear a similar suspension of play could be on the table as soon as Thursday.
In a terse one-paragraph statement issued Wednesday night, the NHL said: "The National Hockey League is aware of the NBA's decision tonight to indefinitely suspend its season due to a player testing positive for coronavirus. The NHL is continuing to consult with medical experts and is evaluating the options. We expect to have a further update tomorrow."
The Sabres are in Montreal and are scheduled to face the Canadiens on Thursday night before hosting the Boston Bruins Friday night at KeyBank Center.
TSN reported Wednesday that the NHL and the NHL Players Association need time to have conversations among themselves and with owners before a decision can be rendered.
"We are in continuous contact with the NHL regarding the coronavirus and the recent announcement by the NBA," the NHLPA said in a statement late Wednesday night. "These discussions will continue tomorrow morning, and we will consult with players before commenting further.”
"Things are getting pretty real around here," Chicago Blackhawks star and South Buffalo native Patrick Kane said after his team's 6-2 win over the San Jose Sharks Wednesday night at United Center.
The NHL last had interruption of a season when a lockout of the players delayed the 2012-13 campaign until January and cut the schedule to 48 games. The only time a season was stopped by a pandemic came in 1919, when an influenza outbreak struck the Montreal Canadiens and the Stanley Cup final against the Seattle Metropolitans could not be completed after five games. The Cup was also not awarded in 2005 after the entire season was canceled due to a lockout.
The NBA had been scheduled to play its first game without fans Thursday night with Brooklyn visiting Golden State. The San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets announced Wednesday that they would play upcoming home games without fans and it seemed likely that would be a path many teams would take.
The NHL played a five-game schedule Wednesday night with the final game being Ottawa at Los Angeles. The Sabres' game in Montreal is one of 10 NHL games scheduled for Thursday.
One option that's conceivable would be for the NHL to suspend the season, declare it complete and then attempt to start the Stanley Cup playoffs in a few weeks. Or the schedule could simply be halted and then resumed at a later time.
The 31 NHL teams all have 11-14 games left on their schedule. The Sabres have 13 left, including six at KeyBank Center. They are sixth in the Atlantic Division and essentially out of the playoff race.