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NHL has 'myriad options' if season resumes after pause for coronavirus

Seeking format to award Stanley Cup with 'integrity,' Deputy Commissioner says

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

Bill Daly brainstormed on the way to work Thursday. The NHL is considering many possibilities for the rest of the 2019-20 season and the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, focused on awarding the Stanley Cup with integrity and preserving a full 2020-21 season.

What is the standard for awarding the Stanley Cup with integrity? What might that look like if and when it's safe to resume play this season but the NHL can't finish the full regular season and playoffs?

Each team played at least 68 games before the season was paused a week ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"That's a high percentage of the regular-season schedule," the Deputy Commissioner said Thursday. "So I think any way you cut it, regardless of whether we come back to a handful of regular-season games or we try to play all of them, which I think is becoming more unlikely, or we can't play any, I think we have had a meaningful regular season in terms of separating potential playoff teams from nonplayoff teams. And so I think in terms of integrity, the regular season has had integrity.

"What integrity means in the context of a playoff tournament, there's a couple different aspects to that. Is a single-elimination game in the context of our sport, is that really fair? And maybe it is fair, but maybe it's fair in some contexts of the playoffs and not in others. So you want to come up with a format that you think is fair for the participating teams but also has integrity in terms of producing a deserving winner."


[RELATED: NHL pause for coronavirus: Frequently Asked Questions]


The NHL is dealing with a complex, fluid situation.

Commissioner Gary Bettman decided to pause the NHL season March 11 after an NBA player tested positive for the virus. After the Commissioner spoke to the Board of Governors the next day, the League made the announcement.

"I think in our best-case scenario we were hoping that we would potentially be back as quickly as three, four weeks," Deputy Commissioner Daly said.

Then on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended no gatherings of more than 50 people for eight weeks.

The Ottawa Senators announced Tuesday that a player tested positive for the virus. Deputy Commissioner Daly said that is the only NHL player who has tested positive and relatively few have been tested.

"I suppose there's always the possibility that [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation] could get lifted if things improve dramatically," the Deputy Commissioner said. "You've been living this day to day. So far I don't see the signs of this improving dramatically or quickly.

"So I think our time frame has been squeezed already a little bit since we entered the pause, which I suppose, in some respects, may have discarded some options. But I think we still have myriad options."

The NHL has a coronavirus task force of about 15 people representing a cross section of operations. Commissioner Bettman leads a conference call each day at 10 a.m. ET. It lasts about an hour.

Deputy Commissioner Daly sends an update to the teams each day at about 1 p.m. ET. The Deputy Commissioner spends a lot of time on the phone with teams, the NHL Players' Association and medical personnel, including an infectious disease expert the League retained because of the virus.

"I think the medical information plays into all those decisions you have to make, and in some respects controls it, and in some respects is a major part of the decision, and in some respects is part of the decision," Deputy Commissioner Daly said. "There are a lot of factors that play into the decisions that are made, but obviously what the experts are telling us is very, very important."

Eventually the NHL will have to address the NHL Scouting Combine, scheduled for June 1-6 in Buffalo; the NHL Awards, scheduled for mid-June in Las Vegas; and the NHL Draft, scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal.

"Obviously as time goes by, and depending on what the environment is, we realize that tough decisions are going to have to be made," the Deputy Commissioner said. "Obviously we'd love to host all of them in the same and normal way we do annually, but we also understand that might not be the reality. So you do the best you can, you hold out for as long as you can, and then you make the decisions you need to make."

The NHL has not set a deadline for the resumption of this season. The difficult part is the same for the League as it is for fans.

"You don't really know where this is going with any degree of certainty, and you don't always know what kind of the next steps are and what those next steps will mean to our ability to resume play, both the timing and the form of resuming play," Deputy Commissioner Daly said. "I mean, it's just the whole uncertainty of the whole situation. ...

"It's really day by day, and as [Commissioner Bettman] likes to say, hour by hour. Things are developing. You're trying to think ahead. You're trying to [be proactive]. But at the end of the day, you really just have to know that X, Y and Z are possibilities, and you have to have thought about how you're responding to X, Y and Z if and when they happen."

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