The National Hockey League on Wednesday made sweeping changes to its league calendar in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and one postponement impacts Western New York.
The NHL scouting combine, scheduled to return to Buffalo's LECOM Harborcenter and KeyBank Center for a sixth consecutive year from June 1-6, was postponed, along with the NHL draft in Montreal and the league's annual awards show in Las Vegas.
The location, timing and format of the draft and draft lottery will be announced when details are finalized, according to a press release from the NHL. The draft was scheduled for June 26-27, and the awards show was to be held June 18. The latter will be "returning to Las Vegas in the future," the league announced.
It's unclear when, or if, the NHL will be able to resume its season after it suspended play March 12, less than 24 hours after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz became the first professional athlete in North America to test positive for the coronavirus.
This is the beginning of a new three-year contract for the Sabres to host the combine, an event that brings approximately 100 draft-eligible prospects and dozens of employees from the league's 31 teams to Buffalo. It includes player interviews, medical assessments and a series of off-ice physical fitness tests, which are held in LECOM Harborcenter.
The NHL draft was scheduled to return to Montreal for the first time since 2009, and the league has hosted its annual draft in an arena or convention since 1980, when it became a public event at the Montreal Forum. The first 18 events were held in hotels and the league's office, which was then located in Montreal. The NHL could opt to close the draft to the public and broadcast the event in a television studio. The 2005 draft was held in an Ottawa hotel and closed to the public because of the lockout.
The NHL awards show was held in Toronto before it moved to Las Vegas in 2009. Some individual trophies are awarded based on final regular-season statistics, while others are voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association or the team general managers.
The league calendar changes come one day after the Associated Press reported players and team staff were instructed by the NHL to extend their self-quarantine period 10 days to April 7. Commissioner Gary Bettman continues to express hope the season will resume, however, it's unlikely that will be possible until at least mid-May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended against gatherings of 50 or more people for eight weeks. The directive caused the NHL to alter its plan to resume, as players were allowed to return to their permanent residence, including outside North America.
Professional, minor and junior leagues across the globe also allowed players to leave the city in which their respective team is located. Border closures and travel restrictions may make it difficult for European players to travel to the scouting combine or draft, even if large public gatherings are allowed in June.
League officials have expressed hope that teams can hold an abbreviated training camp before resuming the season. The NHL is preparing for a number of scenarios, including holding its playoffs through September, and the league plans to hold an 82-game regular season in 2020-21.
The Sabres' 30-31-8 record had them on track to miss the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season.
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