The NHL's chief medical officer believes the number of cases of coronavirus will get worse before things begin to improve in North America, and it could be a while before the season resumes.
Dr. Winne Meeuwisse said the number of COVID-19 cases across the NHL's 31 markets will affect any kind of timeline for players to return to practice, which in turn will impact when games can be rescheduled.
He said the spread of the virus is difficult to predict, so it's too early to set any kind of timetable for a return.
"[The virus is] really just entering the rapid acceleration phase, certainly in North America,'' Meeuwisse said on a conference call.
''We want to be doing our part to not only protect our players but also our staff and our fans as the disease unfolds.
"It's difficult to predict where the pandemic is going and what the timeline will be.''
While NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman intends for the season to resume at some point, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said league officials ''continue to hold out hope that at some point we'll be able to resume play,'' but it is also too early to know if fans will be allowed back in arenas.
''From a medical perspective, I think we'd have to understand what the risks are for the different groups,'' Meeuwisse said.
''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.''
On Tuesday, the NHL extended its recommendation for players and staff to self-quarantine back 10 days beyond its original Friday timeline to April 6.