With concern over the COVID-19 outbreak growing both internationally and here in North America, the NHL took steps to prevent the spread of the virus Thursday, shutting down the season for the time being until it’s deemed safe to bring fans, players and staff together again.
It’s an unprecedented move for the League and the sports world at large, as seemingly every major sporting league and event has come to a halt in the wake of COVID-19’s impact. Speaking with Sportsnet 590’s Brian Burke, Jeff Marek, Anthony Stewart and Justin Bourne on Hockey Central, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shed light on the league’s thinking leading up to the decision to halt play.
“We had, throughout the last few weeks, been constantly analyzing what was evolving, what the situation was, and what our responses need to be, and what all the possible contingencies could be,” Bettman said Friday. “We were exploring whether or not it was going to reach a point in time we needed to completely shut down, whether or not we needed to take a break, or how we would continue to play — whether it was in all empty buildings relative to fans, or in part-empty buildings, depending on what local jurisdictions were doing.
“But in all of those scenarios and in every discussion I would have, either internally or with clubs, particularly owners, I would always end it with the caveat, ‘You understand that if a player tests positive, we’re done for the time being, at least.’ So I always understood that to be the case.”
When Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert test positive for COVID-19, spurring an immediate hiatus from the NBA, the NHL felt it was best to follow suit and get ahead of a similar situation occurring in the hockey world.
“I said, ‘At this point, it’s inevitable that an NHL player at some point is going to test positive. We’re not going to get through this current season as scheduled, and we might as well just shut down now so that we don’t get to the point that we have to react the way the NBA did,'” Bettman recalled.
With the 2019-20 campaign now on hiatus with a timeline yet to be determined, and certainly not set in stone, the commissioner also detailed how he and the league’s senior staff are handling the situation.
“We have an internal task force that has been meeting two times a day, in the morning and afternoon, and we are exploring every contingency. We’re looking out in [the] calendar to see, ‘Well, what’s the last day we could be playing under other scenarios?’ and then backing it up. And then what are our options in the timeframe that’s available?” Bettman told Sportsnet 590.
“We’re doing all sorts of modelling, whether it’s completing the existing regular season as is and then a full playoffs, or whether or not based on time constraints we’re going to have to make adjustments and do something different, novel, creative.”
Bettman later elaborated on what that potential playoff format could look like if and when the league does return this season, with the post-season picture mostly in view but plenty of clubs still with room to have climbed back in had league play not been paused.
“We are looking at every contingency and what’s doable, so yes, everything – for consideration – is on the table,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that any of those are going to happen. I don’t want to speculate as to which direction we’re going in. We are analyzing every conceivable option that is available to us, and that’s not something that’s static. In other words, what’s an option today, there may be different options – fewer options, more options, who knows – next week.
“And so, my hope and expectation is that we can finish the season in some form, award the Stanley Cup, and then be able to move on knowing that we accomplished that goal of finishing the season for our fans.”
Listen to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s full interview with Sportsnet 590 via the audio player embedded below.