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Gary Bettman says the NHL can play 'well into the summer' to try to complete the season

Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks with the media prior to Game One of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks with the media prior to Game One of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts.

All people around the NHL can do right now is self-isolate and wait.

But if anybody thinks NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the 31 owners and members of the Players’ Association are ready to throw in the towel on the rest of the regular season and the playoffs with the league on hold because of the spread of the novel coronavirus then think again because there’s no decision pending soon.

Speaking on Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico on NBC Sports Network Tuesday afternoon, Bettman indicated he knows that finishing the regular season and awarding the Stanley Cup, ultimately, may not be possible, but the league wants to give itself as much time as possible before determining what route it’s going to take and it doesn’t sound like there will be a decision before May 1.

Even then, that date could easily change because as Bettman noted this is all a moving target at the moment.

“I think right now there’s too much uncertainty,” Bettman told Tirico when asked about a potential timeline for a return of hockey. “Hopefully we’ll all know more by the end of April. From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options. We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light … Nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out.”

Bettman and Daly met with the NHL’s board of governors by conference call Monday for a bi-weekly update and essentially conveyed the same message as Tuesday because there’s no point being in any hurry. The league doesn’t want to be hasty in making a decision because while they know it could be weeks or months before this pandemic threat comes to an end nobody can can be certain when that will be.

The decision by the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games until next summer gives the NHL some flexibility to play through July, August or September if necessary. NBC was supposed to show the games in the United States, but will be looking for programming to fill that air-time left empty by the Olympics and is a major partner with the league.

No, Bettman isn’t concerned about the quality of ice in some buildings.

“I do believe we can play well into the summer,” Bettman said. “The days of when games had to be postponed because there was no air conditioning in a building are long behind us. We can handle making ice now in any condition. Ice won’t be a factor.”

If the NHL does finish this season then nobody is sure what form that will be in there. There’s been no shortage of speculation that the league is now studying the option of holding the playoffs with 24 teams in four cities in neutral sites to try to help cut down on what could be a loss of more than $1 billion in revenues if the NHL isn’t able to finish the year and award the Stanley Cup.

There is talk the NHL is studying the option of playing in places like Grand Forks, N.D., Manchester, N.H. and Saskatoon. The league isn’t ready to choose an option yet because it doesn’t know what’s going to happen but Bettman did indicate absolutely every possibility is on the table, but noted neutral sites are just one possibility that has been discussed.

“That’s just part of considering all the potential options,” Bettman said.

The league wants to make sure whatever system it comes up with for a return is fair for everybody involved, especially if playing the final 10% of the schedule remaining isn’t possible.

“Everything we do needs to be fair,” said Bettman. “The best thing and the easiest thing would be if at some point if we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do. We understand that that may not be possible and that’s why we are considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”

He took part in a conference call with U.S. President Donald Trump along with the heads of all the major sports Saturday and indicated it was a good discussion.

“President Trump gave us a briefing and brought us up to date,” Bettman said. “Each of us had an opportunity to make a comment, ask a question, and I think it was a very cordial, constructive conversation.

“Although the uncertainty of the times weren’t clarified in that call, we’re all going to have to wait until we have a lot more information, maybe in the next few weeks, before we can make any decisions.”

Bettman is well aware people can’t return to arenas until it’s completely safe.

“All of us running sports are basically focused on the same thing,” said Bettman. “First and foremost, people’s health and well-being and safety is the most important, and while we all miss sports, either putting it on or watching it, and we all want to come back as quickly as possible, we understand what the number one priority is.”

bgarrioch@postmedia.com

Twitter: @sungarrioch

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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