As we already know, the 2019-20 NHL season has been on pause for almost two months. Rumors and speculation continue to twist and turn across the hockey landscape about when the season will resume. Neutral sites. Hub cities. Everything but the kitchen sink has been discussed.
Thursday on NHL Network, commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the other big question: When will the 2020-21 season start?
“We obviously don’t want to impact the sanctity of next season, but we have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start,” Bettman said. “There’s no magic for next season of starting in October as we traditionally do. If we have to start in November or December, that’s something that will be under consideration.
“We’re going to try and make good, prudent, careful judgments. This isn’t a race to be first back. When we come back, we want it to be at the right time, for the right reasons, under the right circumstances.”
Sources told The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun this week that the league has discussed with teams the concept of starting in December — but also that it wants to play a full 82-game schedule, which would mean another postseason in the summer.
For now, the league’s next step — Phase 2 — is getting players back on the ice and game-ready. The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association released a joint statement Wednesday stating that they hope, but could not guarantee, they can take that step in mid- to late May.
“Our health concerns for the players really fit into two categories: One is obviously COVID-19, and two, whatever we’re going to do, we don’t want them playing games until they’re back in game shape,” Bettman told NHL Network’s Tony Luftman. “So we’re going to continue to monitor things, and when the guidance from the medical people is right and the governmental authorities are comfortable, then we’ll take Step 1, which is reopening our training facilities.”
The league and the players have been working hand-in-hand; they’ve formed a Return to Play Committee and created what Bettman called an “extraordinarily collaborative, constructive and cooperative” setting as they look at all options. This collaboration is critical as players are starting to voice their concerns about the possibility of being away from home for months in a bubble-type setting in a hub city.
Sportsnet’s Eric Engels reported that Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault said on a recent conference call: “Some players could be away from their families for three to four months and I think that’s way too much. I’m not the only one thinking like that, I’m sure.”
I asked John Tavares about this, and he confirmed that’s come up in the Return to Play Committee discussions… some players concerned about being gone from their families too long while living in a centralized site bubblehttps://t.co/bmXUR4K0BD https://t.co/aOl5LoVP4b
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) April 28, 2020
Bettman stressed that, for now, the league just wants to get back on the ice.
“We miss the game. We miss our fans. We miss watching our players play every night,” he said. “We’d be in the middle of the [Stanley Cup] playoffs right now. We’re focused on trying to do the right things for the good of the game, so we can get back and connect with our great fans as soon as possible.
“But ‘as soon as possible’ means under the right circumstances, and for that we’re going to take our guidance from the governments at all levels and from the medical people.”