NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says that players will need at least two-to-three weeks of on-ice activity to return to game shape.
“We’ve had discussions with our players and the players’ association and as much as you may try to stay in shape with a home gym, our guys haven’t been on the ice for a month and they’re going to need two-to-three weeks to get back into playing shape,” Bettman said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “So as much as we may worry about keeping everybody… safe from the coronavirus, we also want to make sure that our players don’t jeopardize their health by coming back too soon and not being in game shape.”
In the same interview, Bettman said the NHL hasn’t ruled out any options when it comes to returning to play, including hosting games in neutral sites and without fans. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on April 5 that the league was exploring hosting games at neutral sites, including Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D.
“All the leagues are basically focused on the same thing,” Bettman said. “There’s been a lot of speculation that we’re going to play in neutral sites like North Dakota and a variety of other places. The fact is when you’re in the position that all of us are in, you have to be prepared to relaunch when the opportunity presents itself, which means you have to not rule out any conceivable alternative and be prepared on every one, even if some of them ultimately turn out to be not very realistic.”
The NHL season was suspended on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and players and team employees have been told to stay home. Some of the players have since returned to their home countries while others chose to stay in the city their team is based in. Five Ottawa Senators players and three Colorado Avalanche players have tested positive for the virus, with all the Senators players now healthy.
“When we’ll have an opportunity to return depends on things we have absolutely no control over because it all starts with everybody’s health and well being,” Bettman said. “Until there’s a sense that people can get together, not just to fill our arenas but even for our players to get together to work out, we don’t know when we can come back.”