Like the rest of us, Brendan Shanahan has pretty much had his life turned upside down. The president and alternate governor of the Maple Leafs is working remotely from home in Toronto while he is surrounded by his family.
“There is no such thing as a typical 24 hours, and 23 of those 24 are at home,” Shanahan said by telephone Thursday afternoon. “What is happening to me is what is happening to each of us. Today is much different than a week ago.”
A week ago, fewer people were locked behind closed doors to keep from getting the novel coronavirus. Supermarket shelves were still fairly well stocked. Toilet paper wasn’t as coveted as N95 respirators and surgical masks.
It is two weeks now since the NHL suspended play as a result of the global pandemic that has everyone on edge. The NBA said it would postpone games one night before the NHL after its first player was diagnosed with COVID-19. Several NHL players have tested positive since then, the most recent a member of the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.
“The NHL made it clear that it was always going to make its own decision, but it was going off the same information in a rapidly evolving situation,” Shanahan said. "I think it was smart for the league to regroup and discuss it the next morning.
“I don’t think it came as a shock with how quickly this started to evolve the night before. I don’t think anyone was taken by surprise by it.”
The Maple Leafs were third in the Atlantic Division when games were shut down and seemingly in control of a playoff position. It had been in an uphill slog for them all season, one in which a coach was fired, but they had done enough things well to have a shot, however unlikely, at contending for the Stanley Cup.
What happens from here is anyone’s guess. Will the rest of the regular season be scuttled? Will there be playoffs and in what form and when? How long can the league wait to make a decision without putting the start of 2020-21 at risk? Is there a point at which the NHL will find it necessary to cut its losses, cancel the postseason and just pick up with another campaign in the fall?
“I feel sorry not only for our players, but for everyone else as well,” Shanahan said. “Everyone plays in the regular season to have a chance at the Stanley Cup. It is hard to have that taken away from them and all the fans.
"From a perspective standpoint, you realize there are other things more important going on right now, but it still hard.
When it comes to daily routine, it is not much different for Shanahan than for you and me right now. Health and safety is the No. 1 priority, and then there is everything else.
“I’d say half of you is in the present and thinking about staff and family and individuals, and the other half is trying to participate in NHL matters with a lot of variables at play,” he said. "I think for many of us there are a lot of balls in the air.
“I don’t know if there has been a day where I have been working on one thing without the next day being entirely different.”
It is up to the coronavirus now to decide what happens. The NHL has no more control than the NBA, Major League Baseball, pro soccer or most anything else. Unless COVID-19′s spread can be stopped, there is no way to predict the future.
“There is no certainty and that is our biggest challenge right now,” Shanahan said of the league. “What you have is a group of people that is used to planning things well in advance and they have that taken away.”
It is a daily battle for Shanahan as it is for each of us. The decisions he makes have wider-ranging implications, of course, and with that comes a tremendous burden. There is something at stake now that is bigger than the Maple Leafs, more important than if Auston Matthews will score 50 goals this season, things much bigger than hockey and the NHL.
“The health and safety of the community is priority No. 1 right now,” he says. “If everyone takes it seriously that will take care of No. 2 and things will start getting back to normal.”
Despite all of the variables out there, there is nothing that can be planned.