The NHL and the NHLPA announced Friday that international games scheduled for the start of the 2020-21 season have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The announcement comes as the NHL season remains paused, with the league having halted play in mid-March and having yet to announce any plan to finish the year.
NHL Planned International Games for Finland, Czech Republic
Multiple media outlets have reported that the NHL is considering a 24-team tournament to close out the season and award the Stanley Cup. The uncertainty over any plan means it’s impossible to tell if or when the 2019-20 season will conclude, however. That leads to further uncertainty over when the 2020-21 season can begin.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 8, 2020
Add in the complications of traveling between countries during the pandemic, and it may be impossible for the NHL to stage international games in the near future.
“The NHLPA and the NHL remain committed to maintaining and growing our international presence,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “We hope that our fans overseas understand the need to postpone the 2020 games, but we look forward to being back with them in 2021.
The NHL had scheduled at least four teams to play in Europe next season. The Nashville Predators and Boston Bruins expected to play their opening game in Prague, while the Colorado Avalanche and Columbus Blue Jackets would have played two games in Helsinki, Finland.
The league was also trying to put together an event in China, though that project was already questionable.
“We haven’t announced anything,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN back in March. “But it is unlikely we will play games in China next season, in part because of [the coronavirus pandemic].”
The NHL has increasingly scheduled international games in recent years, particularly at the start of the season. The Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers opened the 2019-20 campaign by playing each other in Prague, for instance.
KHL Cancels Remainder of Playoffs
International hockey leagues are facing similar challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), generally considered to be the second-best hockey league in the world, now says it will not name a champion for its season after stopping play during the playoffs. The Russian league shut down in March with eight teams remaining in contention for the title.
Should the NHL fail to finish its season, this will mark only the third time since 1915 that the Stanley Cup has not been awarded. The Cup went unclaimed in 1919 due to the Spanish flu epidemic, and again in 2005 because of an NHL lockout.
For the time being, however, there is still hope that a winner will be crowned at some point. According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Boston Bruins (+600) are favored to win the Stanley Cup, ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning (+700) and the Colorado Avalanche (+850).