Kyle Dubas was at home on March 11 watching a Marlies game on television when news broke that Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz had tested positive for COVID-19. It was not much later that the NBA announced it would halt operations.
“It was a momentous move that started a chain reaction in sports and society in general that was unlike anything I have ever experienced,” the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager said Tuesday during a conference call with journalists. “What happened was all very surreal.”
The next morning, Toronto’s players arrived at Scotiabank Arena for a customary pregame skate, but were sent home without ever taking the ice. That night’s game against the Nashville Predators was scrubbed in late afternoon when the NHL announced that the regular season was suspended.
Suddenly, everyone was scrambling.
“We were trying to gather information as quickly as possible,” Dubas said. "Players were reaching out. You would have to go back to the 1990s where a season was suspended right in the middle, and that was caused by a labour dispute.
“I don’t think any of us have experience with a health [crisis]. These are unprecedented times.”
The National Hockey League Players’ Association called a strike days before the start of the playoffs in 1992, but it was averted 10 days later. There is no possible short-term solution to the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
Professional sports are frozen in time and, all over the world, people’s lives are turned upside down. The luckiest among us are working at home in isolation; the unfortunate have lost their jobs or have become gravely ill.
“This is an athletics situation, but there are much more important things happening in the world right now,” Dubas said. “I think the league is trying to map out as many situations as possible without getting too far ahead.
"It is so hard to know which way we are going and how we are going to get there.”
The Maple Leafs’ final game of the regular season was originally scheduled for Saturday at home against the Montreal Canadiens. A dozen contests have been scrapped since their last game, a 2-1 victory on March 10 over the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice.
Players are scattered all over, practising social distancing and isolating with their families.
Dubas said the NHL intends to resume playing, but beyond that the league has yet to have explicit discussions with teams. It is too hard to predict how long COVID-19 will remain prevalent. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said that wants to maintain the integrity of the four-round Stanley Cup tournament, but that could prove to be a challenge.
“I have no idea what it would look like or how it would unfold,” Dubas said. "I think these are unprecedented times and the league is looking at everything. The focus is getting the best read on the situation and arming oneself when you can move forward.
"But for me to guess would be a little bit reckless. It is not at the forefront of my mind and probably not the league’s either. That is taking a back seat to the medical situation right now.”
The Maple Leafs doctors are keeping in contact with players and staff members to advise them how best to protect themselves from the virus.
“We are trying to keep everyone as educated as possible, trying to support them and are trying to communicate with them as best we can,” Dubas said.
Dubas is working remotely from home – like many of us – and spending time with his wife, Shannon, and their two-and-a-half-year-old son, Leo.
“It occurred to me over the weekend that one of the positive things in this unfortunate and grave situation is that the three of us have been together now [for nearly] three weeks in a row. Once we find a solution to this situation, I don’t think it will be possible to have this much time with our family.
“If there is any silver lining, maybe that is one.”