NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that it will be a while before the league can determine whether the 2019-20 regular season should resume.
“We’re all going to have to wait until we have more information, maybe in the next few weeks before we can make any decisions,” Bettman said in an interview with NBC Sports’ Mike Tirico. “I think right now there’s too much uncertainty. Hopefully, we’ll all know more by the end of April.”
Bettman told Tirico that a conference call Saturday between leaders of the major North American sports leagues and U.S. President Donald Trump, in which the leagues were briefed on the COVID-19 pandemic, failed to provide clarity.
Bettman said the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 gives the NHL a bigger window to finish the season. He has said he is looking at all options after pausing the regular season March 12, and he reiterated Tuesday that nothing has been ruled out.
“It’s largely going to be determined what we do by how much time there is because we have next season to focus on as well and the health of both countries (the U.S. and Canada),” Bettman told Tirico.
Bettman emphasized the importance of fairness, especially if the regular season can’t be completed.
“We have issues about if we get to play the playoffs about who gets in,” he said. “We have to deal with the lottery and the order of selection in the draft, so the best thing and the easiest thing would be at some point to complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do.” Bettman, though, acknowledged that it “may not be possible” to play the remaining regular-season games.
Moving games to neutral sites is one of the options the NHL is considering to maintain fairness, in the event some markets ease social distancing requirements earlier than other markets.
Bettman has been consulting with the NHL Players’ Association, and he said teams would need a couple of weeks to get back into game shape. He added the NHL can play deep into summer.
“When we come back, we have to make sure that we don’t do anything to jeopardize the players in terms of their ability to play and making sure they’re in game-ready shape and that all goes into the equation,” Bettman said.
Another question is how good the quality of the ice will be in the summer, especially in markets like Arizona, Florida and Las Vegas. Bettman said that is the least of his issues.
“We can handle making ice in any condition because our buildings are just that good and our ice-making capabilities are just that good. Ice won’t be a factor,” he told Tirico.
When sports are allowed return, Bettman said, the league will be ready to go, with health being its primary focus.
“When we get the opportunity to play on some basis, then we’ll be prepared to execute whatever makes the most sense under the circumstances at the time,” he said. “Our first focus is keeping everybody healthy and safe, and we want to get back to playing for our fans and for the love of the game as soon as it makes sense and it’s safe to do so.”
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