NHL teams ponder future as teams prepare to play in empty arenas

New York (AFP) –


National Hockey League officials were considering options on how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak Wednesday after two clubs bowed to pressure from lawmakers and agreed to play games in empty arenas.

The NHL was re-evaluating its plans in the wake of the NBA's decision to halt its season indefinitely after Thursday's games following a player testing positive for the virus that has proven deadly.

"The National Hockey League is aware of the NBA's decision tonight to indefinitely suspend its season due to a player testing positive for the coronavirus," the NHL said in a statement.

"The NHL is continuing to consult with medical experts and is evaluating the options. We expect to have a further update tomorrow."

The Columbus Blue Jackets, who had planned to ignore the recommendation of Ohio governor Mike DeWine and allow fans to attend home games Thursday against Pittsburgh and Saturday against Nashville, reversed course later Wednesday and said they would play in empty arenas.

The move came after DeWine said he would issue an order banning mass gatherings since some groups did not follow his earlier suggestion.

"The Columbus Blue Jackets are aware of Governor DeWine's announcement today that an order prohibiting mass gatherings in the state of Ohio is forthcoming," the Blue Jackets said in a statement. "We have been in contact with the National Hockey League regarding this matter and will abide by the state's mandate."

The game at Columbus will be the first major professional sporting event in North America played without fans because of the coronavirus.

Only club personnel, media, broadcasters, arena staff and NHL officials will be allowed into the arena for the games.

The San Jose Sharks said Wednesday they will play the three home games remaining this month without fans after Santa Clara County authorities asked to limit gatherings by 1,000 people or more in the area due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Sharks will play without fans against the Montreal Canadiens (March 19), Boston Bruins (March 21) and Arizona Coyotes (March 29).

The Blue Jackets, clinging to the final Eastern Conference playoff berth with 12 games remaining in the regular season, first reacted to DeWine's recommendation for empty arenas Tuesday by saying they would play in front of fans anyway.

"I'm sure whichever way you go with your decision there are going to be some people who criticize you," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kakalainen said Wednesday.