Finland’s SM-liiga has put its season on pause for the foreseeable future. Originally announcing a December 19 return, the league has since specified that due to growing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, the soonest that games could resume for the 15-team league would be December 26, 2020.
“The COVID-19 situation in Finland has deteriorated in recent times,” read a statement from the SM-liiga. “Regional authorities have imposed stricter restrictions this week to prevent more unnecessary spread of the virus. Due to the provided audience restrictions, the Board of the Hockey Championship today has decided to pause the season for the duration of December 3 to December 19, 2020.”
This suspension in play is rather significant in the European hockey markets, as only one other league (France’s Ligue Magnus) within Europe’s 17 recognized professional league has put a pause on its season. Two other leagues, the EIHL of Great Britain and the Champions Hockey League have not yet started their respective seasons. But all other leagues continue play.
This temporary shutdown of the SM-liiga will spell the end of European experiment for many prospects belonging to various NHL clubs. Granted leaves of absence/loans/conditioning stints to these European clubs while the NHL prepares for the 2020-21 season, their respective NHL teams will most certainly need these players back prior to the proposed Boxing Day return. With NHL training camps expected to open in the coming week, players overseas will be called back to North America.
In relation to the Winnipeg Jets, five players have spent time within the SM-liiga so far this season, including Ville Heinola (Lukko), Kristian Vesalainen (HPK), Joona Luoto (HIFK), Santeri Virtanen (SaiPa) and Henri Nikkanen (Jukurit). Heinola leads the way with 14 points, while Luoto has five goals. Vesalainen has produced most effectively, amassing four goals and eight points in just 10 games played.