By Shawn Kelly
The NHL’s chief medical officer is urging caution toward the league returning to play this season — including the idea of playing in empty arenas.
“From a medical perspective, I think we’d have to understand what the risks are for the different groups,” Dr. Willem Meeuwisse said by telephone. “What are the risks to the players? What are the risks to the staff that would be required to run an event? And what are the risks to the fans?
“Once we know what those things are, I think we can make a more intelligent decision.”
The NHL’s season has been on pause since March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the league is running several models of how it can complete the season — if at all possible.
Meeuwisse said it is “very difficult to predict” a timeframe at this point.
“We’d need to have some knowledge and confidence around the trajectory of the disease,” Meeuwisse said. “Because if it’s on a trajectory of getting worse and worse, it makes a lot less sense getting people together.”
NHL players were initially told to self-quarantine through Friday, though the NHL has extended that to April 4.
“That’s a meaningless date really at this point in time,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “As we get closer to the date, we’re going to have to make decisions as to what to do then. We’re biting this off in chunks.”
Should the NHL return to play this season, Meeuwisse said there would be a mini training camp — first off-ice conditioning, then practice — before actual games.
“It is important that they try to maintain their conditioning so we can resume play if the conditions change substantially, but it’s very difficult to do,” Meeuwisse said. “It’s more of a do-what-you-can-do approach, where if players can work out at home in an isolated environment, that would be ideal. We do allow them — and maybe even encourage them — to get outside and get some fresh air because I think that’s one thing that’s probably going to be an emerging public health message for everyone.”