After more than two months with little more than a list of unknowns regarding when or how the NHL might be able to resume its 2019-20 campaign in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league announced its Return to Play Plan on Tuesday.
The comprehensive proposal covers the particulars of how the league’s 24-team playoff will work, the tentative timeline for its phased return to play and the plan for the 2020 NHL Draft lottery.
After the announcement Tuesday afternoon, commissioner Gary Bettman opened the floor to fan questions via the NHL’s Instagram account. Here’s what was covered during the commissioner’s Instagram Q&A:
Would you find it fair if a team not originally in the post-season wins the Stanley Cup under the new format?
Gary Bettman: “The nature of the competition is such that the cream always rises to the top, and the gauntlet that our teams will have to run to win the Cup will make sure that any team that wins the Cup will have earned it.”
What happens if a player, or players, test positive for COVID-19 during the playoffs? Will the playoffs be cancelled?
Bettman: “Our medical people are telling us that they don’t think one positive test will interfere with the competition — that player would have to isolate, but we’re going to have to be guided by the medical people as to what the appropriate response is if we have multiple positive tests.”
Do the Bruins win the Presidents’ Trophy?
Bettman: “I think that’s a fair assumption on your part.”
What has been the hardest part of the lockdown on the league, and on you?
Bettman: “We’re, by nature, socially interactive people. This is a socially interactive society, and the separation and the lack of normalcy and the illness and death, the unemployment — this is just a calamity on every level.”
How will the league figure out where to play?
Bettman: “We’re looking at a number of cities — we need a modern state-of-the-art building, one of ours. It has to be in a place that doesn’t have a lot of COVID-19, and there has to be an availability of testing in numerous quantities that won’t affect the medical needs of that community.”
When is the earliest we can see a game?
Bettman: “Perhaps in July we’ll be in a position to open training camps and then get ready to resume competition. Everything we’re doing is focused on the health and well-being of our players, our other personnel, and the communities in which we play, so there isn’t a rush.”
Will fans attend the games?
Bettman: “I think it would be pretty unlikely. Based on everything we know … we’ll be concluding the 19-20 season in buildings without fans. I wish it would be to the contrary, but I think that’s the reality of what we’re focused on.”
How will the 2020-21 season be affected by this new plan?
Bettman: “Next season’s start date, I think, in light of everything that’s going on, can be fluid — if we’re going to be playing over the summer and into the fall, I don’t think there’s any magic in starting in October. We can start in November, we can start in December. I think we can be flexible, and we intend to be.”
What do you think about people booing you?
Bettman: “They do that? Since when?”
Bettman also held a Q&A session along with deputy commissioner Bill Daly for members of the media on Tuesday. Here are a few items covered in the session that didn’t come up in the fan Q&A:
Will Canada’s mandate for a two-week quarantine when entering the country affect whether a Canadian city is chosen as a hub city?
Bill Daly: “If we’re not able to (change) the interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room, we won’t be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub city. So we’re faced with having to find a solution to that. Hopefully we can.”
What will be the process be for testing, and how many tests will be needed?
Bettman: “If you’re looking for a number, we could be doing 25,000-30,000 tests. … And our medical advisers and some of the attendant medical advisers tell us that by the time we’re doing this over the summer that will be a relatively insignificant number of tests relative to the number of tests that will be available.”
What went into the decision to wait until after the season is completed to hold the 2020 NHL Draft?
Daly: “…We brought (the option of an early draft) to the clubs and there was not a strong consensus one way or the other, quite frankly, on whether we should do it. And, certainly, the people who were opposed to it felt strongly about being opposed to it. Some of the factors, probably the most significant one we gave the most weight to, was the lack of the ability to use the draft as an opportunity, as a jumping-off place for forming your next year’s roster, resetting in the off-season like many clubs do, the inability to have a trade associated with active players in and around the draft.”
Will players who signed contracts after the season was paused on March 12 be eligible to play this season?
Daly: “This is something that we’re going to have to ultimately resolve with the (NHL) Players’ Association like so many other contractual issues, but the league’s position right now and our position with our clubs since the start of the pause is no club is entitled to sign (a player to) a current-year contract. They are free to sign future-year contracts, so for the 2020-21 season and beyond (that’s) perfectly fair game. But it would be our position, particularly given the advanced date and given the fact that a lot of the players might now be able to play the balance of the season, it may be unfair to let them play the balance of the season.”