How the NHL plans to potentially restart play continues to become clearer.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday the league is vetting “eight or nine different places” that could host “a dozen or so teams in one location.”
“We’d like to complete this season,” Bettman said during an interview with Leaders Week, a sports business conference conducted digitally on Monday. “We’d like to award the Stanley Cup. And our fans are telling us overwhelmingly that’s what they’d like us to do, because people have an emotional investment in this season already.”
The NHL paused its season on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. All 31 teams had completed from 68 to 71 games of the 82-game regular season.
The league and the NHL Players’ Association – which has formed a Return To Play Committee – have discussed different models for the potential resumption of play but no plans have been finalized. The NHL Board of Governors met again on Monday to discuss alternatives.
A source told Newsday earlier this month the return-to-play scenarios had been narrowed to two and 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. Bettman’s comments on Monday would seem to confirm this is one model the league is investigating.
The second plan would include just 16 teams heading straight into the playoffs with no regular-season games salvaged.
“If we’re not playing in front of fans, which at least in the short term seems [likely], do we do it in a centralized location or locations?” Bettman said. “And what is the availability of testing?”
It’s not clear how the standings for the returning teams in either scenario would be determined.
“I don’t think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now,” Bettman said. “We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we’re in a position to execute any or all of those options. There is still a great deal of uncertainty.”
That includes a myriad of health and logistics hurdles to clear before the NHL can resume play and Bettman repeatedly has said the league will take its cue from health and government officials.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday, “New York State is ready and willing to partner with major sports teams that are interested in playing games safely, without fans. If our professional sports teams can make it work (& be safe) on their end, we’re supportive.”
Neither the Islanders nor the Rangers issued a statement in response to Cuomo’s comments.
Bettman also added the NHL would need to have border restriction and quarantine issues resolved to reassemble its teams. He said 17 percent of the NHL players are currently outside of North America.
The NHL is hoping to get the green light to reopen its teams’ practice facilities by the end of this month to allow small groups of players to resume skating and working out.
Players and league personnel have been under a self-quarantine recommendation since the season was halted.
Bettman said regardless of what plan the NHL chooses, the league, “can’t be jumping the line in front of medical needs.”
“I think the major sports and their franchises will get through this and will come back as strong as ever,” Bettman said. “It’s just a question of time.”