Gary Bettman says the NHL will have to be “flexible and agile” as it attempts to complete its season amid the COVID-19 pandemic and indicated that every team on the playoff bubble will be granted new life in whatever return-to-play format is selected.
Appearing Wednesday morning for an interview on Fox Business Network, the NHL commissioner said that teams have been lobbying the league’s head office since the season was paused on March 12 with different ideas about how a potential resumption should look.
“There are at least seven teams that were on the bubble of making the playoffs and not all of the teams had played the same number of games,” said Bettman. “Whatever we do to come back … we’re going to have to do something (fair): Whether it’s complete the regular
season in whole or in part, whether or not it’s expanded playoffs, we’re going to have to do something that’s fair and has integrity.
“That’s going to be very important no matter what it is we do and we’re considering all of the alternatives. And nothing has been ruled in and nothing has been ruled out.”
Among the ideas that have been discussed are an expanded, 24-team playoff format that would include a best-of-three, play-in round featuring all of the teams that were still battling for a playoff spot when the season was paused.
The Islanders, Rangers and Panthers were all within three points of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot through play on March 11, while the Canucks, Wild and Coyotes were each within four in the Western Conference.
And, if you accounted for points percentage because of a different number of games played, there would be a reordering of playoff qualifiers in a traditional 16-team format.
Several high-profile players, including Connor McDavid, have expressed a desire to see the regular season completed before any playoff tournament began. There were 189 total games left on the schedule — anywhere from 11 to 14 per team — when the novel coronavirus brought the season to a screeching halt.
Having regular season or exhibition games would help get everyone back up to speed after a long layoff. The majority of NHL players haven’t been able to skate during the pause and the league has extended its self-quarantine period through April 30.
After discussions with the NHL Players’ Association, Bettman believes they’ll need training camps lasting two to three weeks before any games can be played. And the commissioner already anticipates that any resumption of play will require games in July and/or August — months where the league has never previously played.
“We believe that we can be fairly flexible in terms of the calendar,” said Bettman. “My guess at this point is we’re probably going to be playing into the summer, which is something that we can certainly do.”
He also acknowledged that neutral sites might be required for games because some areas of the continent are being hit harder than others by COVID-19.
“We have been considering all of the alternatives, as I’ve indicated, not just in terms of the structure of play but where we actually do it,” said Bettman.
“Because we are all over North America: Canada and the United States and lots of different locations, andnot all of them may be in the same condition in terms of the coronavirus.
“So we’ve been exploring the possibility of some neutral sites.”
Under the circumstances, the NHL is willing to do just about anything possible to find a way to award the Stanley Cup.