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NHL discussing coronavirus protocol daily, Commissioner Bettman says

Priority on 'doing the right thing for everybody's safety and well-being'

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

In the end, this isn't about the business. This isn't about the game.

This is about health.

The NHL paused its season at a time when experts advise social distancing to slow the coronavirus pandemic, and the League will deal with the situation as it evolves.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday no player or employee had tested positive, to the best of his knowledge.

"No matter how this turns out, there will be a material negative consequence to the business, and that may be important on some level," Commissioner Bettman said. "But it's secondary to the first goal, which [is making] sure that we're doing the right thing for everybody's safety and well-being."

Why not cancel the season now?

"We may have the benefit of time to complete the season and the playoffs in an appropriate manner, and there's no reason at this point in time to preclude any of our options, even though we don't know what they are yet," Commissioner Bettman said.

The situation is so fluid that there are many questions and few answers, including how long the pause might last, how it might affect the Stanley Cup Playoffs and how it might affect the salary cap.

Commissioner Bettman has a task force of senior executives representing a cross-section of operations that he said "basically meets twice a day to discuss every conceivable issue that we could be dealing with."

The NHL is in constant communication with its constituents, including the teams and the NHL Players' Association. Commissioner Bettman said he and NHLPA executive director Don Fehr speak regularly.

"He's the last one I say good night to and the first one I say good morning to," he said.

Commissioner Bettman declined to give a minimum time for the pause or a deadline for the cancellation of the season. The NHL will be guided by mandates from government officials.

"This isn't an independent determination," he said. "We're going to have to rely on others as to when it's safe, which is why people can speculate but nobody can predict with certainty."

The NHL is going over scenarios to determine its options, and that process will be ongoing.

"We're looking at every conceivable alternative," Commissioner Bettman said. "We're looking at the calendar. We're looking at what we think is and isn't doable in terms of a timeframe to continue to play.

"Obviously it's conceivable that we'll play beyond the time we were originally scheduled to conclude. How much longer we could do that is something we're trying to determine, and not just what the timing of all this might be. We also are considering what playing alternatives there are that fit within the window that may be left.

"And so it's a bit of a puzzle, and part of the problem is, we don't know what all the pieces are yet.

"So what we do is, we model every conceivable alternative, and as time passes, it may change the equation and we adapt them out. So it's not like we have a model today and that's the model we sit with. The model is changing every day."

Commissioner Bettman said the NHL asked teams to isolate people at home for the next few days. The League is working with medical personnel to determine how long that will last.

"Then we'll be looking to progress in terms of activities once we get a handle on whether or not anybody in the short term is going to test positive," he said.

Eventually, the NHL will have to address the NHL Awards, scheduled for June 17 in Las Vegas; the NHL Draft, scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal; and the start of free agency, scheduled for July 1.

It will have to address hockey-related revenues, which are split 50-50 between the players and the owners under the collective bargaining agreement and which are used to set the salary cap.

It might have to address next season, too. One thing the task force discussed Friday morning was whether finishing this season late would affect next season's schedule. It might push it back but not shorten it.

"Unless the pandemic continues, God forbid, I envision a full, normalized '20-21 season," Commissioner Bettman said. "I don't see any basis right now, subject to the one caveat I gave you, for any other view."

Commissioner Bettman said he was optimistic the world would emerge from the pandemic quickly and life beyond sports would resume with normalcy. The NHL will be ready when the time comes.

"I appreciate the fact that you'd like more definitive answers," he said. "But as I say internally when I'm dealing with my team here, this is a rapidly evolving situation and there are a lot of unknowns, and we've got to make sure that we understand all the ramifications of everything that's coming at us and how we respond.

"And most of all, we want to do the right things and use common sense."

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