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Stanley Cup Final

Bettman proud of NHL's accomplishments with Stanley Cup, hub cities

Commissioner says players, League 'did what we set out to do' in face of pandemic

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

After awarding the Stanley Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman went to Studio 99, the restaurant at Rogers Place in Edmonton where he had eaten many meals since arriving in the bubble almost three weeks ago.

The Commissioner was going to grab a bite with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and head to his hotel room to pack. The Stanley Cup Final had ended with a 2-0 win for the Lightning against the Dallas Stars in Game 6. The work had not, with the 2020 NHL Draft on Oct. 6-7 and the 2020-21 season to plan.

But first, he took a few minutes to put it all in perspective. The NHL had two main goals when returning to play after pausing the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus: keeping everyone safe and awarding the Stanley Cup with integrity.

"We did what we set out to do," Commissioner Bettman said.

As of Monday, the NHL had administered 33,174 tests to team personnel, including the players, since the teams arrived in the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto on July 26. None was positive for COVID-19.

The League staged 130 games in 59 days since Aug. 1, and despite the 4 1/2-month pause, strict safety protocols and isolation of the bubble, the level of play was more than worthy of the Stanley Cup.

"There were sleepless nights, and there were skeptics," Commissioner Bettman said. "But I believed that with our collaborative effort across all our constituents, we could do this. And yes, there is a sense of relief, but I'm also …"

He paused for a moment.

"Actually," he continued, "I'm feeling more proud of everybody who participated than relief."

 

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Remember that the regular season was humming along as usual, and then one day it screeched to a halt. There was no playbook to consult. Worse, there was no certainty as to how the pandemic would play out. Even worse, the situation was evolving differently, in terms of the coronavirus and local governments' responses to it, in each NHL market.

Together with the NHL Players' Association, the NHL created a new way of competing, living and viewing on the fly -- a 24-team tournament in two Canadian hub cities, made for TV with no fans in the stands. Everyone bought in, wearing masks, social distancing and putting on a show.

"I'm proud of everybody who worked on this: the players, the front offices of the clubs, our staff," Commissioner Bettman said. "We had 150 people between the two bubbles. The networks that supported us. Our partners. The doctors. The Players' Association. This was the ultimate collaborative effort by many, many people, and it shows as a league and an organization when we bring everybody together what we're capable of."

Commissioner Bettman has handed out the Stanley Cup 27 times since 1993, but this was different. He and Tampa Bay general manager Julien BriseBois spoke about how this represented something special, considering how the 52 members of the Lightning traveling party had been in the bubble, away from their family and friends, for 65 days.

"He discussed with me how we should commemorate this, and I suggested that we do what we wound up doing," the Commissioner said.

Commissioner Bettman walked out in a black mask and removed it as he approached the Conn Smythe Trophy.

"To be in this place at this time under these circumstances is remarkable and frankly overwhelming," he said into the microphone. "It's a testament to everybody who participated in our Return to Play, and it's a testament to a great Stanley Cup Final from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars."

Video: TBL@DAL, Gm6: Gary Bettman presents Cup to Lightning

After Commissioner Bettman awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP to Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, the representatives from the Hockey Hall of Fame carried the Stanley Cup and set it upon a pedestal.

"Tampa has asked under the circumstances to do it a little different this year," the Commissioner said into the microphone. "So, before I formally present the Stanley Cup, I'd like to invite you all up here to surround the Cup, and then I'll make the official presentation."

The entire Tampa Bay traveling party gathered around as if taking the team photo.

"There's no harder championship to win," Commissioner Bettman said into the microphone. "The gauntlet that you have to run to hoist this trophy is unbelievable -- and never more unbelievable than this year.

"These guys have been away from home for more than two months. This has been the ultimate team effort. This Stanley Cup run will go down in the record books as perhaps the hardest run of all times. You guys should all be incredibly proud. This is an amazing accomplishment.

"It is my honor to present the Stanley Cup to Steven Stamkos."

With that, it was over. The fireworks blasted. The celebration began.

"Afterwards, when I slipped out behind the players and they started passing the Cup, Julien came up to me and said, 'See? Isn't this great?' " Commissioner Bettman said. "And I agreed with him, because it was."

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