There are anywhere from two to four games remaining in the tumultuous 2019-20 NHL campaign before either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Dallas Stars hoist the Stanley Cup.
However, at several points earlier in the year there were serious doubts about whether or not the hockey season would even be able to resume and conclude, which is one reason why Gary Bettman is so proud of what the NHL accomplished this summer with the two bubbles set up in Edmonton and Toronto.
“It’s been nothing short of remarkable,” the NHL commissioner told Hockey Central during an appearance on Thursday.
As hockey fans know, the NHL took an indefinite hiatus back on March 12 due to all the concerns and questions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the break, the league developed a Return to Play plan that included a modified 24-team playoff format where Eastern Conference teams would compete at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and Western Conference teams would play at Rogers Place in Edmonton – the Stanley Cup Final is also being contested in the Edmonton bubble.
The league worked with teams to ramp up coronavirus testing throughout training camps in July and ever since play officially resumed on Aug. 1 the league has seen no positive tests.
“Under (NHL chief content officer) Steve Mayer's leadership, we had between the bubble in Toronto and the bubble in Edmonton 150 people who were up here working, focussing on every little detail to make this as safe as possible, which was the first priority – health and safety was paramount – and make this as comfortable as possible,” Bettman explained.
“It’s also a testament to the provinces of Ontario and Alberta and to the Canadian government that COVID-19 was in such a state here that while I waited to the last second to make a decision – and some people criticized it – we went to the places that could be the safest because the communities were safer than perhaps anywhere else in North America.”
At this point, the Lightning and Stars have been living the bubble life for more than 60 days and Bettman said some league staff has been in bubble isolation for more than 70 days.
“We always believed that if we could get into the bubble, we would have a really good chance of keeping everybody healthy,” Bettman said. “And I don’t want to jinx it because we’re not done yet, but it has been a real testament to the vigilance that the players and the other team staffs have adhered to with respect to the protocols that we developed.
“This was the ultimate collaborative effort with us and the Players’ Association and the players really committing to what had to be done to get through this.”
Bettman said there have been more than 32,000 COVID-19 tests administered in the bubbles.
The commish added that he was impressed with the excellent conditioning of all the players considering the lengthy layoff during which many players didn’t have regular access to ice and training facilities.
Bettman also mentioned, as he has multiple times in the past week, that the NHL’s goal is for the 2020-21 season to be played in full, not in bubbles, and for the league to be in a position to have fans in the buildings when it’s safe to do so.