Returning to sports after coronavirus

How and when can the NHL and NBA seasons resume?


Will we ever get to see who the true king of LA is in the 2019-20 NBA season?

Bennett Carollo, Sports Editor

When the seriousness of the coronavirus became apparent, all of the major sports leagues in the country made the swift and correct decision to suspend play. At first, it was assumed that the NHL and NBA seasons would be on hold for a few weeks, maybe a month or two at most. However, as the threat has continued to develop and more precautions are taken, the situation is looking more and more unsure and bleak.

When the NHL suspended play on March 12th, the final push for the playoffs was under way. In the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Islanders, Rangers, and Panthers were fighting to their playoff lives with about 12 games left to play. In the West, the Stars, Oilers, Flames, Jets, Predators, Canucks, Wild, and Coyotes were all involved in tight races. Initial speculation suggested that the league may decide to skip directly to the playoffs when and if the season resumes, but the league has since expressed a desire to finish the regular season. This would be the correct decision, as these bubble teams deserve to get a chance to finish strong and earn a playoff berth. One idea that has been presented for how the season could be finished is to have the games played without fans and at a neutral site. North Dakota was rumored as one of these sites. However, it is uncertain if the season will return at all and, if it does, it likely won’t be until July. If this is the case, the start of the 2020-21 season could end up being delayed as well, although the league has said that they would like to play a full season next year.

The NBA season was in a similar place as the NHL season when the league suspended play on March 12th. There were around 18 games left on the schedule for each team. However, there weren’t really any important playoff races at stake, with both eight seeds holding decent leads over their challengers. Sure, the Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, or Spurs could’ve made a run for the final spot in the Western Conference, but low seeds hardly ever make any noise in the NBA playoffs anyway. The playoff positioning, on the other hand, was still up in the air. If the NBA season were to resume, reports from ESPN’s Brain Windhorst suggest that there would be a 25-day training period before games could occur. Commissioner Adam Silver has stated that a decision on the matter won’t even be made until May at the earliest. If the season does resume, the start of the 2020-21 season would most likely be pushed back to December, with some suggesting a Christmas-time start.

It is a serious possibility that neither the 2019-20 NHL nor NBA season will resume. This of course, would mean no champion for either league. In the past, whenever there has been a case of a canceled season, fans of frontrunning teams always point back at that season for years to come insisting that it was “their year.” For instance, in 1994, the Montreal Expos were 144 games into the franchise’s best regular season ever and on pace to win the NL East and qualify for the MLB Postseason for only the second time in team history when a strike promptly ended the season. Due to the fact that the Expos had the best record in baseball at the time of the season’s cancellation, many fans have declared that the ’94 team would’ve won the World Series or drummed up enough interest in the team to prevent their eventual relocation to Washington 11 years later if they’d gotten the chance. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Lightning were the 2004 Stanley Cup Champions and appeared primed for a run at a repeat before the 2004-05 season was cancelled due to a strike. The Lightning would end up losing many key players in the following offseason and wouldn’t come close to another Cup for many years.

If this year’s NHL season were to not finish, the Bruins, Blues, and Lightning would have the best case to stake claim to an imaginary championship. Boston led the league with 100 points at the time of the season’s suspension and, if you ask star forward Brad Marchand, they may have taken the biggest hit from this whole ordeal. Marchand has stated that he believes older teams like the Bruins would struggle the most if the season were to resume. St. Louis are the defending champions and sat atop the Western Conference with 94 points. The Lightning were third in the NHL with 92 points and had been active at the trade deadline to build a complete team that was playoff ready. This may be their best shot at the Cup, as Erik Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev, and Anthony Cirelli will all be restricted free agents in the offseason and it is difficult to see how the Lightning would bring everyone back.

In the NBA, the cancellation of the season would first and foremost mean we will never know if LeBron would’ve been able to win another ring in LA in his first year alongside Anthony Davis. The fascinating battle for LA storyline between Lebron’s Lakers and Kawhi’s Clippers would also never see the epic conclusion of a playoff series that many expected. Not to mention, Giannis and the league-leading Bucks would be robbed of possibly their best shot at a title yet and the Raptors would lose the opportunity for a title-defense run sans Kawhi.

The number one concern amid this pandemic is, of course, safety. If resuming the NHL and NBA seasons would mean infringing upon the safety of the players and fans, then it shouldn’t be done. Nonetheless, here’s to hoping that we can overcome the coronavirus and that these leagues can find a way to finish their seasons and crown champions with integrity.