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NHL return-to-play plans have been narrowed to two scenarios, source says

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, center, joins Deputy Commissioner

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, center, joins Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, left, and Tod Leiweke, right, president and CEO of the Seattle Hockey Partners group, during a news conference in Seattle on Jan. 9, 2019. Credit: AP / Ted S. Warren

The NHL may be down to its final two.

The league halted play on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and myriad options have been considered since about how play might resume if health and governmental officials give the green light.

But a source told Newsday on Saturday that the return-to-play scenarios have been narrowed to two and that the timing of when games can resume — if they do — likely will determine which format is used.

The first scenario includes 24 teams. Under this plan, the top four teams would play for playoff seeding and the bottom teams would have postseason play-in games.

The second plan would include only 16 teams heading straight into the playoffs, with no regular-season games salvaged.

It’s not clear how the standings for the returning teams in either scenario would be determined or where the games would be played.

“I think, as of now, every option we have considered remains on the table,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said via email. “Obviously, some may be being explored more extensively than others. But no decisions have been made.”

The 31 NHL teams all had played between 68 and 71 games of their 82-game schedule when the season was halted.

The league has acknowledged considering a plan that would include groups of teams sequestering at four locations to resume play. There has been pushback from some players at the thought of being away from their families for an extended stretch.

“Guys with kids at home aren’t interested in [living] somewhere for four months and being away from them,” Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk said on Thursday in a Zoom conference call with the local media. “I know myself personally, I’m not interested in packing up and going away for that length of time away from my family. I can’t imagine that anybody else would, and I think it sounds like the NHL is sensitive to that and understands that, so we’re just going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds here.”

Of course, the speculation on how the NHL would resume play if it is possible to do so has shifted almost weekly.

On Thursday, two sources said the league was looking at heading straight into the playoffs, most likely a 24-team postseason.

“It’s not a fact, yet,” one source said. “It’s where the sides are leaning as of this week.”

The same source noted that two weeks ago, the NHL was “hell-bent” on including regular-season games if play resumed.

Myriad health and logistics issues confront any of the NHL’s efforts to restart play. The league’s players and personnel still are under a self-quarantine recommendation issued when play was halted. There still are international travel restrictions, and any player returning to North America, or even crossing the border from the United States to Canada or vice versa, might be required to self-quarantine for an additional two weeks.

The players likely will need up to three weeks of a second training camp to safely be able to participate in an NHL game, postseason or otherwise.

The NHL hopes to be able to reopen its practice facilities to small-group workouts by the end of this month if officials say it’s safe to do so.

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