NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have been saying that all options are on the table as the league tries to figure out a way to return to play and finish the 2019-20 season, once health officials give the direction that it’s safe to do so.
And that could mean playing the rest of the games in neutral sites.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that North Dakota was one potential location for the NHL to resume, and since then Manchester, New Hampshire has come up as another possible site to help complete the season.
On Friday, New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu joined WEEI Sports Radio Network and was asked if he had been in communication with the NHL about possibly hosting some games in his state.
“There is truth to that,” he said. “I have had discussions about that. Don’t know whether it’s going to happen, but we are talking about it.”
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) April 17, 2020
It’s believed that if the NHL was able to return in this form that it would need to happen at several neutral sites. Players would need to remain isolated, get tested regularly, and social distancing rules would have to soften for this to be an option.
Sununu added that any discussions he’s had have been preliminary and that there are still a myriad of issues to sort through and figure out before they could proceed.
“It would be a very interesting opportunity for New Hampshire, but even the venues would have to say, ‘Yes we want this,’ because we gotta make sure what are the liabilities here? What if a team were to get sick, how’s it going to be managed? So we’re working through some of those logistics, but that’s on the table for sure.”
Bettman has remained optimistic that a Stanley Cup will be awarded in 2020. The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to 2021 has extended a window for the NHL to play into late July and August.
While Bettman has said that ideally any return would include finishing the regular season, he also admitted that “may not be possible.” Players would not only need a few weeks to get back in game shape before jumping into playoffs, but the league also does not want any return-to-play decision to disrupt a full 82-game 2020-21 season.
“We believe that we can be fairly flexible in terms of the calendar,” Bettman told Fox Business Network this week. “My guess at this point is we’re probably going to be playing into the summer, which is something that we can certainly do.”