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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stresses importance of normalcy for 2020-21 season

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the All-Star Skills Competition at Enterprise Center on Jan. 24 in St Louis, Mo. Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman won't give an exact date for when it would be impossible to continue the 2019-20 season, but he made clear the priority will be to have a full and normal season in 2020-21.

Bettman spoke with Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s “Get Up’’ Thursday morning, a week after the NHL paused its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I believe that under the current circumstances, we can go later than we’ve ever gone,’’ Bettman said. “How late is a good question. What we want to make sure of is that we don’t do anything from this season that might impact next season having the normalcy it’s supposed to have.

“So, the two factors are timing — relative to how late we can go without impacting next season — and making sure that whatever we do competitively, if we’re going to complete this current season, it has to have integrity, it has to be respectful of the well over 100-year history of the Stanley Cup.’’

Bettman made his comments the morning after NBA commissioner Adam Silver was interviewed by Rachel Nichols on ESPN. Bettman said the questions that get asked most often by players are regarding testing for COVID-19. Players are not undergoing mandatory testing, he said.

“We had a test positive, our first, two nights ago,’’ he said, referring to an unidentified Ottawa Senators player who the team announced late Tuesday had tested positive. “There have been some players testing, but medical advice that we’ve been given is that if you’re asymptomatic, there’s no reason to be tested, because it’s not going to tell you anything.

“So, we’re not over-testing. We’re testing when it’s appropriate, and when there’s a situation, whether it’s a player or a family member or an executive, we then have to go back and trace contacts that may have been had, and whether or not they were meaningful contacts. But in the final analysis, getting people, whether it’s sports, or society as a whole, to self-isolate and reduce the spread of the coronavirus is probably the most important thing any of us can do.’’

Bettman did a round of interviews with various media outlets last Friday and made it clear then that he wanted to find some way of crowning a champion and handing out the Stanley Cup this summer, even if the league had to make some changes to arrive at a fair way of deciding a champion. At the time play was halted, teams had played between 68 and 71 games (the Islanders had played 68 and the Rangers had played 70), and the regular-season schedule calls for 82 games.

But what the season might look like if it is resumed is not a question the commissioner could answer. Asked if the NHL is considering the same types of things the NBA is considering, he said yes. Silver spoke on Wednesday night about possibly resuming games in arenas without fans.

"The options are obvious, and we’re all exploring them,’’ he said. “The fact of the matter is, none of us is going to be able to do anything until we get an ‘all clear' on some basis. We too have explored — and continue to explore — every scenario, which will depend on the timing of when it’s safe to go out. But I think the most important thing in the short term is we should be focusing, not just in sports, but we can be a good example on the fact that self-isolation is going to help the spread, or reduce the spread of the coronavirus.’’

Asked who he expects will give the “all clear’’ to return to play, Bettman said the league has its own doctors and is consulting with infectious disease specialists. But they won’t be the ones who make that call.

“It's going to be with the local governments," he said, "and perhaps the federal government tell us about what is safe."

New York Sports