Hub cities not out of the question to start NHL season, Gary Bettman says
The NHL has yet to finalize how or where its teams will play the upcoming season, but Commissioner Gary Bettman is not ruling out hubs rather than home arenas for games, at least to start.
"Right now, we’re focused on whether or not we’re going to play in our buildings and do some limited traveling or play in a bubble, and that’s something we’re working on and getting medical advice on," Bettman said Wednesday during a video panel discussion on "Holding Domestic and International Competitions in the Modern Conditions of a Pandemic," coordinated at the World Hockey Forum in Moscow.
"We don’t think we can conduct an entire regular season that way," Bettman said. "But circumstances, depending on where COVID is spiking and where the medical system is being taxed at any given time, may require us to adjust."
The NHL is targeting Jan. 13 to start a truncated, 56-game regular season. Bettman repeated that, to limit travel and to account for restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border, the teams will be split into four, geographically based divisions, including all seven Canadian teams in one division, with play limited only to divisional games.
The NHL conducted its postseason from August to September in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton. Bettman said that put a "huge burden" on the Lightning and Stars, who reached the Stanley Cup Final and spent more than two months sequestered.
The preference is to play games at the home arenas, even without fans in the buildings. But Bettman acknowledged that might not be possible for all 31 teams.
"So, for example, we have a couple of clubs that can’t hold training camp or conduct games even without fans in their current buildings and facilities, and we’re going to have to move them somewhere else to play," Bettman said. "If enough teams can’t play, again, without fans, in their own facilities, then we may have to move more and more towards a hub. It may be that some teams are playing in other buildings. It may be that a whole group of teams have to play in other buildings.
"For an entire regular season, even if it’s abbreviated, we didn’t think we could put the players in a bubble for six months," Bettman added. "That just wasn’t practical."
Negotiations continue between the league and the NHL Players’ Association on guidelines and health and safety protocols to start the season. Both sides must vote to approve any proposal.