The flow of news came fast and furiously for the Kings on Wednesday.
Some of it was good: Late in the afternoon, top prospect Alex Turcotte agreed to terms on an entry-level contract with the team, paving the way for the former No. 5 overall pick to join the club’s minor league affiliate in Ontario for the rest of the season.
Some of it was not: Minutes before the Kings and Ottawa Senators took the ice for warmups at Staples Center, the NBA suspended its season because of coronavirus concerns after a Utah Jazz player was confirmed to have COVID-19.
Most of it was simply unclear: Just before puck drop, the NHL released a statement saying it would reevaluate the fate of its own season Thursday, a message echoed by the league’s players union midway through the first period.
“It’s not the best feeling, obviously, to go into the game and seeing the NBA games getting canceled,” captain Anze Kopitar said. “It’s always in the back of your mind.”
By the end of the night, after a come-from-behind 3-2 Kings win fueled by third-period goals from Gabriel Vilardi and Martin Frk, the team skated off the ice and into a world of uncertainty, unsure of exactly what comes next.
The NHL could follow the NBA’s lead and suspend its season Thursday. It could choose to keep the schedule intact but hold games behind closed doors (something the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks had already planned on doing). It could push back the regular season to be resumed when the coronavirus epidemic subsides. Or, it could end the campaign early and use Wednesday’s final standings to decide playoff berths and draft lottery positions.
If that latter scenario were the case, the Kings’ win Wednesday — its seventh in a row — might have hurt its chances at getting the top draft pick, bumping them to fourth-to-last in the league – a position in which the odds of winning the No. 1 overall selection are only 9.5% (had the team lost Wednesday, it would be second-to-last, where the odds are 13.5%).
When coach Todd McLellan was asked Wednesday morning whether lottery odds were any consideration of his yet, he responded truthfully.
“It will be [in] April,” he said, referencing the regular season’s regularly scheduled conclusion before adding, for now, “Let’s win games and fix the culture. That’s what we’re here to do.”
But what if there are no more games to win? What if Wednesday was it?
“We want to keep playing games, obviously,” McLellan said after the game. “We’re on a roll and we’re doing some good things as a team. We need this time to continue to get better and improve to set ourselves up for the following season.
“But will that happen? I think the health of our players, of our staff, of our organization, of our city takes precedence.”