Report: NHL, NHLPA form committee to discuss potential return to play

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, left, and Executive Director of the NHLPA Donald Fehr speak to the media in 2016. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/CP)

With the NHL’s 2019-20 season currently paused due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league and the NHLPA have reportedly formed a committee to plan out an eventual return to play.

According to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, NHLers John Tavares, Connor McDavid, James van Riemsdyk, Mark Scheifele and Ron Hainsey are part of the committee, along with Gary Bettman, Bill Daly, Colin Campbell and Steve Hatze Petros representing the league, and Don Fehr, Mathieu Schneider, general counsel Don Zavelo and divisional rep Steve Webb representing the Players’ Association.

Per Brooks, the group “has conducted a pair of conference calls over the past three days with regularly scheduled ‘meetings’ to follow.” Medical advisors from both the league and NHLPA have been included on the calls “when appropriate,” Brooks adds.

Thus far, the meetings have not moved to specific plans, according to the Post, but rather big-picture questions in need of answers before a plan is put in place.

Speaking with Ron MacLean during an episode of ‘In Conversation’ earlier this week, Bettman shared some of the league’s thinking on what such a return might look like — specifically the idea of potentially hosting each of the four divisions in NHL cities to play out the remainder of the regular season, as recently reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

While hosting games at neutral sites originally seemed to be on the table, it appears playing out of NHL rinks is a necessity.

“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community because if we’re going to be centralized, we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide,” Bettman told Ron MacLean on Wednesday.

“Whether it’s multiple locker rooms, whether it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities. Those are the things that are in place in NHL arenas and that’s what we’re going to ultimately need if we’re going to come back in a centralized basis and play multiple games a day.”

The commissioner stressed, however, that no plans have been made yet, and that while the league is modelling return-to-play scenarios, they will follow the lead of the medical community.

“Listen, the decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who run governments at all different levels,” Bettman told MacLean, “so we’re not going to try and do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate.”

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