BOCA RATON, Fla. – After weeks of closely monitoring the developments surrounding the spread of coronavirus, the NHL revealed Wednesday it has issued its first travel ban for league employees.
“We’ve barred all travel outside North America for business purposes,” said commissioner Gary Bettman after wrapping up three days of GM meetings.
“On a personal level, people are still free to do what they want to do. If you go to a place that is on the list of countries that have an issue, or while you are there a country comes onto the list, we want you quarantined outside the office for two weeks, so we can see if symptoms develop.”
Bettman said the ban does not extend to the league’s 31 clubs, which can decide individually how they’ll react to the heightened awareness of the virus that has killed more than 3,200 and been contracted by over 90,000 worldwide.
“For the time being they’re free to adopt it, but it’s an individual club decision.”
General managers said they’ve been given daily coronavirus updates from the league, which has been in constant contact with Health Canada and the Center for Disease Control.
“Speculation, when you’re dealing with something like this, isn’t particularly helpful,” said Bettman, who refused to deal with hypotheticals like the possibility of canceling games or playing them without fans in the stands as they have started doing in Europe.
“We’re staying on top of it, which is what you have to do. We’re aware of all the possible alternatives and we may have to deal with any of those alternatives if something happens we have to react to. We’re aware of what’s happening around the world and understand this can evolve and change. As we sit here today, I don’t think people should get too far ahead of themselves… let’s see how it all evolves.”
Flames GM Brad Treliving said it’s business as usual with his team, but is continually monitoring the situation.
“They’ve given us lots of information on two things, but mainly from the team perspective and everything in North America and staying on top of things and potential contingency plans,” he said.
“The second part is in Europe, relating to our scouting. Everyone has staffs that are going over there and chasing players and some tournaments and leagues that have been affected. We spent a lot of time on that. From the NHL standpoint it’s wait, watch and stay current with what is happening. You’ve got to take leadership for your staff and make sure you’re not putting them in tough situations. But right now its business as usual until you find out otherwise.”
The NBA recently sent a memo to players, suggesting they replace high-fives with fist bumps, while also encouraging them not to handle pens, balls or jerseys handed to them by fans for autographs.
One casualty of the virus is the possibility of pre-season games in China this September, which won’t happen now.
Incidentally, only twice in NHL lore has the Stanley Cup not been awarded – once during labour stoppage and once in 1919 due to the Spanish Flu.
Other topics discussed:
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly revealed the salary cap will go up next season to somewhere between $84 million and $88.2 million, depending on negotiations with the NHLPA on the inflator they agree on.
It’s a significant rise from the $81.5 million the league is currently operating under, which was welcome news to GMs.
Daly said the uncertainty of the final number until summer is something he’s hoping to rectify as he undergoes preliminary talks about a new CBA with the players’ association.
“Part of our discussions with the PA on the CBA front has been to see if we can come up with a formula that can provide a little more predictability to the clubs on a more advanced basis than is currently the case,” said Daly.
“Over the last several years we haven’t been able to give them a cap number until late June. Hopefully at some point in the future we’ll have a mechanism that allows them to have that number sooner.”
That would be helpful for organizations as they look to sign players to multi-year contracts.
THE NEW PUCK
One day after revealing the league would unveil a new puck – complete with sensors for tracking data – during the playoffs, Bettman went on the offensive when asked why it would introduce a new puck at the most important time of year.
“The puck has been extensively tested and extensively used, and anybody suggesting somehow that can be an issue is just misguided speculation,” said Bettman.
“There’s no difference in the physical characteristics and the way it performs.”
Testing videos shown to the GMs and media included shooting the new puck out of a cannon at 170 mph against a concrete wall, amongst other tests.
Bettman said 24 teams have used the puck in games this year unbeknownst to them, and not a single player knew it or complained about how it performed.
Able to transmit data for broadcasts and fans at 60 times per second, the puck is full of sensors that make it worth considerably more than the current ones in use.
That said, they’ll still use up to 40 pucks a game, chill them the same way as always, rotate them out of play every three or four minutes and will not ask fans for them back if they are shot into the crowd.
Stemming from the commissioner’s four-point plan to ensure there isn’t another Bill Peters situation in the league, Daly said the league is close to having a hotline in place for anyone in the league to report inappropriate conduct of any sort.
“We hope to provide our, for lack of a better term, whistle-blower platform, up and running by June 1,” said Daly.
“We are in the process of developing the education and training program for club executives, coaches and staff, and they will all be trained prior to the start of next season.”
He said since the commissioner promised action on inappropriate conduct, the league has been inundated with reports from teams following the new guideline, which insists on mandatory reporting of anything of concern.
“I can tell you our clubs have been over-inclusive, and the level of communication of issues that are local team issues has been solid,” said Daly.
“Normal HR issues they deal with regularly we’ve been brought into the loop on because clubs want to err on the side of being over-inclusive.”
He added, “We’re not sitting on any major scandals or news breaking stories in that regard.”
Asked about the dismissal of Ottawa Senators CEO Jim Little on Wednesday morning for “conduct inconsistent with the core values of the Ottawa Senators and the National Hockey League,” the commissioner said, “It’s not what you think.”