MONTREAL – Ralph Krueger and the Buffalo Sabres traveled to the center of the hockey world to play the first of 13 games remaining on their regular season schedule.
The Sabres left Montreal wondering when or if they'll play another NHL game before next season.
The NHL officially suspended its season Thursday with plans to resume "as soon as it is appropriate and prudent," according to a statement released by Commisioner Gary Bettman, in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak that caused a stoppage in the NBA on Wednesday.
The Sabres declined to make Krueger or players available to the media following the announcement. TSN reported NHL teams are barred from holding meetings or practices while the season is suspended, although the league is still working on guidelines.
The NBA suspended its season late Wednesday night when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. Gobert recently played road games in Toronto, Detroit, Boston and New York, all of which have a mix-use facility that host NHL games. Gobert's teammate, Donovan Mitchell, later tested positive for the virus, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Bettman released the following statement Thursday: "The NHL has been attempting to follow the mandates of health experts and local authorities, while preparing for any possible developments without taking premature or unnecessary measures. However, following last night's news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus -- and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point -- it is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time.
"We will continue to monitor all the appropriate medical advice, and we all encourage our players and other members of the NHL community to take all reasonable precautions -- including self-quarantine, where appropriate. Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup. Until then, we thank NHL fans for their patience and hope you stay healthy."
In a statement released on social media, the Sabres said they are in "full support" of the NHL pausing its season and urged community members to practice measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Additionally, the team reminded fans that games have not been canceled and all purchased tickets will be valid for rescheduled dates.
The decision to temporarily suspend play due to the COVID-19 pandemic is an appropriate course of action at this time. pic.twitter.com/ApudNZvurS
— NHLPA (@NHLPA) March 12, 2020
The Sabres were in Montreal preparing to face the Canadiens Thursday night when the NHL instructed its teams to not hold morning skates, practices or team meetings. Players waited at the team hotel for further instructions.
Meanwhile, the Sabres and 19 other clubs scheduled to play Thursday were forced to plan for multiple scenarios, including having to fly home immediately. The NHL opted to first consult with team officials, the players association and medical experts before coming to a final decision.
Later Thursday, the American Hockey League announced it was also suspending play until further notice. The AHL said it "will continue to monitor developments and will provide updates on the 2019-20 season at the appropriate time." The Amerks issued a statement of support of the league and said tickets will be valid when games are rescheduled.
A statement from the Rochester Americans: pic.twitter.com/XDCj7UBKrq
— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) March 12, 2020
The Sabres have 13 games, six in KeyBank Center, remaining on their schedule. Buffalo was planning to host its 2010s Night on Friday as part of the franchise's 50th anniversary celebration and its alumni wine festival schedule for Thursday was postponed. The team has a 30-31-8 record and its 68 points are tied for the third-fewest in the Eastern Conference, a potential ninth consecutive season without playoff hockey in Buffalo.
The Sabres' roster could look significantly different if their season is over, as the team has five pending unrestricted free agents on the active roster. There is also expected to be a significant fallout from the stoppage in play, including a lower salary cap for 2020-21.
Switzerland and Germany are among the nine European-based hockey leagues to cancel the remainder of their seasons. The NHL had already barred scouts from traveling overseas and some teams ordered their employees to not make any trips in North America. On-ice officials were instructed to book flights home Thursday morning.
The coronavirus first impacted the NHL in early February when two major stick manufacturers, Bauer and CCM, had factories close in China. The International Ice Hockey Federation then canceled two significant tournaments, including the women's world championships.
The NBA took sweeping action Wednesday when it postponed a game between the Jazz and Thunder in Oklahoma City moments before tipoff, closing Chesapeake Energy Arena and causing team personnel to await word on next steps. Utah and the Washington Wizards, who played the Jazz recently, were instructed to self-quarantine.
The NHL released a one-paragraph statement shortly after the NBA announced its decision to suspend the season: "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."
An NHL season was last interrupted in 2012-13, when a lockout of the players delayed it from starting 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 a lockout canceled the season.