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Gary Bettman: No clarity yet, but NHL continues to search for ways to restart

Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior

Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition at Enterprise Center on Jan. 24 in St Louis, Mo.  Credit: Getty Images/Bruce Bennett

Even after a recent conversation with President Donald Trump, Gary Bettman has no more clarity on when — or if — the NHL will be able to resume its season after it was paused on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the NHL commissioner said all options are being considered and “nothing has been ruled in, nothing has been ruled out” during a conversation with host Mike Tirico on Tuesday on NBC Sports Network’s “Lunch Talk Live.”

“We’re viewing all of our options,” Bettman said. “We want to be ready to go as soon as we get the green light. And the green light might not be crystal clear because, maybe, there are some places in the country where you can’t play, some places where you can.”

Also on Tuesday, the Colorado Avalanche announced that a third unspecified player on the team had tested positive for the coronavirus. That brings to eight the total in the NHL, including five unspecified players from the Ottawa Senators.

“The player is in self-isolation and has not had close contact with any other Avalanche players or staff members,” the Avalanche said in a statement.

On Saturday, Bettman participated in a conference call conducted by Trump, along with the commissioners of the other major sports as well as some top sports executives.

Later that day, Trump said he believed sports can resume “sooner rather than later.” But Bettman said not much clarity came from the conference call.

“All of us running the sports are basically focused on the same things,” he said. “People’s health, well-being and safety are the first thing.

“President Donald Trump gave us a briefing and brought us up to date,” Bettman added. “He, like us, would like to see sports back at the right time, both in terms of what sports represents — it brings people together — and, also, we’re a bit of an economic engine.”

Bettman described the conference call as a “cordial, constructive conversation” and said each participant was allowed to make a comment and ask a question.

“The uncertainties of the times weren’t clarified in that call,” Bettman said. “We’re all going to have to wait for more information, maybe in the next few weeks, before we make any decisions.”

Bettman acknowledged that one of the options has been the reported plan to play  games at a neutral site. The University of North Dakota, Buffalo and Manchester, New Hampshire have been mentioned as potential sites.

Bettman repeated that “the best thing, the easiest thing” is to complete the regular season before starting the playoffs, but he is unsure whether there will be time to do so without impacting the 2020-21 season.

If the regular season is not completed, the NHL  must determine playoff qualification guidelines,  which will impact the draft lottery and order of draft selection.

But Bettman also noted that with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo being postponed until 2021 — NBC has the television rights for both the Summer Games and the NHL — there is a larger window this summer to play hockey. Bettman insisted that ice quality would not be an issue if games were played in July and August.

NHL players have been under a self-quarantine order — now extended through April 15 — since play was paused. Complicating matters in terms of being able to reassemble teams for a training period is that some players have returned to Europe and others have returned to Canada. There are no guarantees that other nations will be on the same timeline as the United States in terms of easing social-distancing guidelines.

Bettman said the league would consult with the NHL Players Association on how long the players would need to get back into playing shape.

“When we come back, we have to make sure we don’t do anything to jeopardize the players in terms of their ability to play,” Bettman said. “We’ll need at least a couple of weeks for that.”

Bettman said the NHL’s objective is to “be prepared to execute whatever makes the most sense under the circumstances at the time.”

He added, “We’re staying in touch with the appropriate governmental authorities at all levels. There aren’t a lot of answers yet.”

Oilers' Cave in induced coma. Edmonton Oilers forward Colby Cave has been placed in a medically induced coma after suffering a brain bleed.

The Oilers said Tuesday on their Twitter account that the brain bleed happened overnight and that Cave was in the critical care unit at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.

A 25-year-old from Battleford, Saskatchewan, Cave scored once in 11 games with Edmonton this season. He had 11 goals and 23 points in 44 games with the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.

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