As the NHL goes through model after model to determine the best way to finish the 2019-20 schedule, the question of what happens to next season remains.
Appearing on NHL Network Thursday night, Commissioner Gary Bettman said that beginning the 2020-21 season as late as December is an option being discussed.
“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.”
The interesting part about a December start? According to Pierre LeBrun, the league is hoping to pull off a full 82-game season should that be the case. That would likely mean a condensed schedule, no All-Star Game or bye weeks, and a late-June/early July finish.
We’re coming up on two months since the NHL paused its regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The next step in the league’s plan to return to play is Phase 2, which includes small groups training at team facilities following a self-quarantine period by players and staff. That could take place mid-to-late May.
The league has been in constant contact with the NHLPA and set up a joint Return to Play Committee, which features players like Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele, and John Tavares. The two sides met virtually on Wednesday and released a statement afterward saying that despite reports, no timelines or scenarios have been decided on just yet.
“Having the committee that’s been put together with the players is important so that we can get the feedback on the issues that are important to them, and how to resolve them, and that we can be communicating how we’re focusing on the things we think that need to be done,” said Bettman said. “It’s been extraordinarily collaborative, constructive and cooperative, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the interaction that we’re having.”
None of the models floated over the last six weeks can be implemented without the approval of the players’ union.
While the hope is to resume hockey soon, health concerns for all involved remain the top priority in any decision.
“We’d like to be able to get our training facilities open,” Bettman. “We’d like our guys to be able to work themselves back into shape. But this is something we’re going to continue to evaluate on a day-to-day basis. 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.
“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 one, which is reopening our training facilities.”
Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.