NHL commissioner Gary Bettman does not anticipate that fans will be allowed back into the majority of arenas this season and estimated a revenue shortfall of at least $1 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It would be cheaper for us to shut the door and not play," Bettman said on Monday on a Zoom teleconference with the media that also included deputy commissioner Bill Daly and other league executives. "The magnitude of the loss starts with a ‘B.’ We’re out of the ‘M’ range and into the ‘B’ range. It’s just what we have to deal with and what clubs have decided they have to do. Everyone thought it was important to play our game and deliver what people expect from us, and that’s what everyone signed on to do."
The NHL season, shortened to 56 games and with geographically rearranged divisions to limit travel, will begin on Wednesday.
For now, the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars are the only teams in the 31-team league allowing a limited number of fans into their buildings. The Stars already have had the first three games of their season postponed as a result of a coronavirus outbreak among players and staff members.
An NHL source told Newsday that the Islanders do not believe they will have fans at Nassau Coliseum during the regular season.
Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks, without clearance from Santa Clara County to practice in their own building, have been training in Arizona. It is unclear when the Sharks will be able to return to California — there is a meeting on Tuesday with county officials — though their first home game is not until Feb. 1.
Bettman said financial arrangements have been made with clubs to ensure cash flow, emphasizing that such money will be considered loans.
"While there is an economic consequence to playing this season, all of our clubs are in position to weather it," he said.
Bettman added that the NHL is anticipating that further COVID-19 outbreaks among teams may impact games. He said there is limited wiggle room to accommodate rescheduling.
He said the league’s 12 health and safety protocols, outlined in a 213-page memo, will be "vigorously" enforced.
Bettman did announce two outdoor games — without fans — in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The Vegas Golden Knights will face the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 20 and the Boston Bruins will meet the Philadelphia Flyers the following day.
He said no decision has been made to allow jersey advertisements, though teams are allowed to wear sponsor decals on their helmets this season.