Today on the NHL’s app, writer Nicholas J. Cotsonika updated fans on where the league stands in regards to restarting.
Cotsonika quoted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman as saying that they are “looking at ‘probably eight or nine different places’ that can accommodate ‘a dozen or so teams in one location.’
Bettman, according to Cotsonika, was participating “in a digital keynote interview with Leaders Week, a sports business conference originally scheduled to be held in New York.”
Bettman continued: “I don’t think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now. We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure what whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever the 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.”
Cotsonika mentioned that Bettman said that the league “would need to resolve border and quarantine issues to reconvene the players, 17 percent of whom are outside North America, the rest of whom are spread around the continent.” This is an issue with almost any league now due to the international nature of sports. For instance, the NFL is the only one of the four major North American sports leagues without a team in Canada.
Cotsonika said that were the NHL to use “centralized locations, it probably would need the ability to play multiple games per day without fans. NHL arenas are best suited for that because of their back-of-the-house facilities, such as multiple locker rooms that can be sanitized as teams move in and out.” In other words, don’t get your hopes up that the NHL will be playing games at your hometown’s local rink.
One concern that the Commissioner has is that the NHL “would need the hotel space to house teams and the capacity to test personnel for COVID-19 without doing so at the expense of the medical community.” He did say that “I am told that there can be enough capacity, 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 NHL is currently working with the NHLPA on how to meet these needs, according to Bettman. They are having “regular digital meetings” and the Players’ Association along with the NHL has formed a Return to Play Committee “of executives and players.”
Bettman wondered how to go about this. Cotsonika quoted him as saying, “do we complete the regular season when we’re given the opportunity? Do we do an abbreviated regular season, because our competitive balance is so extraordinary, it’s hard to tell how the season would have ended? Do we go right to the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs and in what form?”
Cotsonika further wrote that Bettman and the league are trying to balance how they do all of this. Since they will not be playing in front of fans, what centralized locations do they use? When they choose them, which ones are “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?”
Commissioner Bettman acknowledged that all of the major North American sports are going through this same process right now, although there may be some variations from sport to sport. What I imagine he is alluding to there is the ice factor and just what the condition would be like in the middle of the summer. Although, without fans and body heat contributing to the humidity in the buildings, things should be a little better, but not totally ideal.
Another thing that Cotsonika brings up is that, should the 2019-20 season go into the summer, the 2020-21 season could end up starting as late as December of 2020. The league would get a full schedule in for 2020-21.
Bettman does think that large gatherings, such as sporting events, will be “back quickly once the medical community has determined the best treatment for COVID-19 and there is a prospect for a vaccine.” Cotsonika said that Bettman gave “possibility of masks, sanitizers and different seating configurations initially.”
The fans are eager to get back to NHL rinks and the league is eager to have them back. Bettman mentioned that he would love to award the Stanley Cup this year and that sports help to unite people and help them through troubled times.
Ultimately, Bettman felt optimistic that the teams and the league will bounce back from this better than ever. And it’s not hard to see his point. If the NHL could weather the storm of an entire season lost to a lockout/labor dispute, there is no reason they can not rebound from something that everyone sees as out of their control and do alright in the future.