If the NHL can restart this season, regardless of the plan the league decides upon, commissioner Gary Bettman has been adamant that he does not want to jeopardize being able to play next season in full.
He believes that can happen even if the 2020-21 season begins much later than usual.
“We obviously don’t want to impact the sanctity of next season, but we have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start,” Bettman said in an interview with the NHL Network on Thursday. “There’s no magic for next season of starting in October as we traditionally do. If we have to start in November or December, that’s something that will be under consideration.
“We’re going to try to make good, prudent, careful judgments,” he added. “This isn’t a race to be back first. When we come back, we want it to be at the right time for the right reasons under the right circumstances.”
This season was put on pause on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The league and the NHL Players Association issued a joint statement on Wednesday indicating that if “conditions continue to trend favorably,” team facilities might be able to be opened to “small group activities” in mid- to-late May.
Bettman insisted on Thursday that no final decisions have been made on a timeline for trying to restart play.
“We’re considering all the possibilities, though I think the rumor, the speculation far exceeds any decisions that have been made,” he said. “Doing due diligence is a far cry from saying any decisions have been made because no decisions have been made.
“We’re going to have to take things one step at a time because the health and well-being of our players is paramount to anything,” he added. “We’d like to be able to get our training facilities open. We’d like our guys to be able to work themselves back into shape.”
Bettman said the health concerns for the players are twofold: Keeping them safe from the coronavirus and making sure they’re in proper game condition.
“When the guidance from medical people is right and the governmental authorities are comfortable, then we’ll take step one, which is reopening our training facilities,” Bettman said.
A Return to Play Committee that includes former Islander John Tavares and several other veteran players has been formed and the NHLPA will have a significant say in any decisions about resuming the season.
Bettman said he is constantly talking with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr and added that the level of communication with the players has been strong.