The 2019-20 NHL regular season remains on hiatus due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the league is slowly considering options for its resumption in the near future.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke in a digital keynote interview Monday with Leaders Week to talk about plans for the resumption of the current season. It is undecided if the league will continue with regular season play before having playoffs, or if a new format will be considered to accommodate teams right on the border of making and missing the postseason.
Locations are another issue with several teams being located in Canada and not the United States. Bettman admitted that the league is considering “8-9 locations as hosting sites,” which could see up to 10-12 teams being relocated for games there.
“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.”
“I am told that there can be enough capacity [in regards to hotels for teams], and certainly over the next couple of months, there will be more capacity. But that is a fundamental question, and we certainly can’t be jumping the line in front of medical needs.”
The league has been on pause since March 12 with many players moving to their homes rather than staying in market. With over a month’s worth of regular season games remaining, there is still much to play for in regards to playoff berths, seedings, and conference and player awards.
Another issue in front of Bettman will be whether or not to limit fans to games or not have fans be able to attend at all. The safety of the players, league officials, coaches, and fans must come first; should fans be forced to watch from their homes, it still is a positive to have hockey back on their television sets as a whole than not at all.
“And 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? And if so, what places might be suitable from a COVID-19 standpoint in terms of the communities that you’re in and how big the outbreak is? And what is the availability of testing? And so that requires a collaboration with our medical advisers,” Bettman stated.
“And I believe that all of the major sports in North America are going through this same exercise, and while the medical and health issues are probably to some extent the same for all of us, the logistics of what we do and how we do it may be a little different depending on the sport.”
Scheduling games as well as training camps to get players back up to full fitness is also another factor in this process for Bettman. With the league currently on hold for over two months, the likelihood that the 2020-21 season is pushed back has become ever more likely with a possible Stanley Cup Finals coming this Summer.
“We’d like to complete this season,” Bettman said. “We’d like to award the Stanley Cup, the most treasured trophy and the most historic trophy in all of sports. 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.”
As for the Philadelphia Flyers, they remain in the race for the Metropolitan Division title as well as a Stanley Cup. Alain Vigneault’s squad was the sixth in the race for the league’s Presidents’ Trophy, given to the team with the most points in the regular season. It seems unlikely they will catch the first-place Boston Bruins, but the team can certainly pose a major threat come playoff time.