NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed a potential four-arena plan for a season restart, a draft held before the season is completed and fans returning to games during a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet on Wednesday.
“Anything we’re considering doing starts with health and well-being, whether it’s the players or other personnel or fans or the community at large. Everybody is going through a tough time,” he told Ron MacLean on “In Conversation” in Canada. “We’re hopeful that by doing the right things in the short term, that we’re able to come back and hopefully complete this season on some basis that is fair and has integrity.”
Among the topics addressed by Bettman:
• Bettman confirmed that the NHL is looking at a four-city plan to restart the 2019-20 season, which was paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said these NHL arenas “won’t necessarily be divisionally based,” can be anywhere that “isn’t a hot spot” and has what the league requires in terms of both the arena and practice facilities.
The plan would be to play three games per day.
Bettman said the decisions on sites “presumes there wouldn’t be fans in the building,” rather than making decisions based on capacity.
• When asked about fans returning to NHL arenas, and whether that’s tied to the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, Bettman said that’s ultimately something the “medical people and the government leaders” will tell the league.
“I’ve seen a lot of polling on that. I think they’ll be some social distancing for a while. I think they’ll be masks, Purell, lots of things,” Bettman said.
• As reported by ESPN earlier Wednesday, the NHL is no longer looking into playing at neutral-site venues such as on college campuses or smaller arenas, due to a lack of facilities for players, staff and broadcast partners.
• Bettman said the league has discussed the possibility of a June NHL draft with its general managers, potentially holding the event before the competition of the season.
“It was a trial balloon. No decision has been made,” he said. “But as I said when we were getting feedback, we don’t live in a world of perfect anymore. We’re going to have to make adjustments. Ideally, from our standpoint would be if we can complete the regular season, even if it’s on a centralized basis, and then go into the playoffs that we normally play them.”
Bettman added that mechanisms could be put in place that would, for example, prevent the same team from winning the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup if the playoffs are expanded.
• Bettman said that if the playoffs are cancelled, the league could owe its television partners “credits against next season” since the bulk of the TV revenue is from the postseason. When it comes to the revenue gap between players and owners this season, Bettman said the system will work it out.
“I don’t want to get into the specific numbers. The fact is that we have a system that made the game healthy, that has paid the players more than before the system was in place, and has made our game more competitive than it’s ever been,” he said. “The system works, in good times and in difficult times.”
• Bettman said he’s been in contact with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, but that the NHL’s plan to restart its season is in no way tied to anything the NBA is planning, especially since the preparation for hockey players ahead of a season restart is much different comparatively.
“We don’t want the players playing games that matter until they’re in game shape,” he said. “The fact is that none of our guys have been on skates, and we have to make sure that they’re in game-ready condition.”
Bettman reiterated that players will need to have a training camp before returning.