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Coronavirus testing key issue for possible restart of NHL season

Protocol yet to be determined, Deputy Commissioner Daly says

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

Frequent testing would be an important part of any scenario the NHL and the NHL Players' Association consider for resuming the season, which was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly discussed that issue and others in two radio interviews Friday.

"We're going to need to have access to testing, and we're going to make it a point that we're not accessing testing, even in a private way, if testing availability is an issue in the community," Daly told 630 CHED in Edmonton. "We will not test asymptomatic players ahead of symptomatic people who are unable to get tested. It's just something we will not do."

Daly told TSN 1050 in Toronto the actual testing protocol has yet to be determined.

"There are number of potential solutions that are [pitched] to us and to the other sports leagues and to other organizations every day, and I'd say it's an important part of the process in terms of making sure you thoroughly vet that and understand the testing solution you're embracing," Daly said.

Daly told TSN 1050 that a number of NHL cities and venues had approached the League about hosting games if the NHL decides to play in centralized locations, and confirmed to CHED that Edmonton is "definitely in the mix."

Daly told TSN 1050 a community would need the capacity for a testing program along with a first-class arena, practice ice, hotel capacity and the ability to secure access.

"Not every community probably will be in the place where they can allow for discretionary testing of players," Daly said.

"… Another box on the checklist that you have to check is, is it supported by kind of the local health authorities? Is this something that the community welcomes and thinks would be a positive in recovering from what we're going through now?

"… We're really just in the process of kind of vetting all those clubs, communities and all the venue issues that would be associated with that."

The NHL and the NHLPA have formed a Return to Play Committee of executives and players. Daly told CHED the NHL has made clear to the players that it understands the issue of being separated from family if teams play in centralized locations.

"We don't expect them to be isolated and away from their families for a four-month period of time or a three-month period of time or even a two-month period of time," he said. "We understand the importance of kind of family interaction, and we'll find a way to accommodate that."

Daly told TSN 1050 that if the NHL were to play games without fans, it would open up possibilities to increase the use of technology via television and digital media.

"Obviously we're looking to exploit that opportunity, and we're going to try to maximize the fan experience," the Deputy Commissioner said. "If you can't be in-building, which is a second-to-none fan experience, I think, for live sports generally but in particular for our sport, I think you have to be creative in ways to utilize technology to, as I said, maximize the fan experience and bring them closer to the game, closer to the personalities than ever before."

The NHL has floated the idea to the general managers of holding the 2020 NHL Draft in June before the end of the regular season. Daly told CHED the League thinks there are benefits. Teams are prepared. The NHL doesn't want to shoehorn the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery and the draft into a tight window of time. Holding the draft in June would be an opportunity for fan engagement.

But there are complications, such as conditional draft picks determined by the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Nothing's going to be perfect," Daly said. "We haven't made a decision on that yet, but obviously we'll have to make the decision in the near future."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL Network on Thursday the League would consider starting next season in November or December.

Asked how that would affect the schedule, Daly told TSN 1050, "That depends on a whole host of things, including building availabilities through the following summer, when we would want to complete our season the following summer, whether we'd have to condense the normal schedule in any meaningful way.

"But … in that type of scenario, my guess is we would be looking at ways to make … the day count as low as possible. You have to look to where in the schedule you might be able to create those type of opportunities, and we'll do that at the appropriate time. But [the NHL All-Star Game] and five-day break and all those things would be kind of normal considerations that would have to be evaluated if we go down that path."

The League and the players' association reengaged in discussions regarding the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement shortly before the season was paused, with the agreement expiring after the 2021-22 season. They have become focused on the coronavirus situation but could engage again.

"This situation certainly provides an opportunity to kind of ignite and expedite those talks, I would think, in certain ways," Daly told TSN 1050. "While we're not there substantively yet because we have a lot of other things we're working on, I think there's a willingness and an interest on both sides to pursue that."

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