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NHL must be flexible to resume play, Bettman says

Commissioner maintains safety of players, public, paramount before return to ice

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

The NHL is focused on being as agile and flexible as possible in all aspects so it can be ready to resume the season after pausing it March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

"My guess at this point is, we're probably going to be playing into the summer, which is something that we can certainly do," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told FOX Business Network on Wednesday.

Commissioner Bettman will be part of a committee of sports leaders advising President Donald Trump about the reopening of the U.S. economy, Trump announced Tuesday.

"We need to get our sports back," Trump said.

Commissioner Bettman, who was scheduled to participate in a conference call with the president on Wednesday, outlined the steps needed to bring back the NHL in an interview on "Mornings with Maria," hosted by Maria Bartiromo.

"First and foremost, from our standpoint, we think people need to feel safe, and we don't want to put anybody's health at risk," the Commissioner said. "And that applies to our players, all the personnel who put on a game, and ultimately fans.

"So part of this is going to be a determination as to how to best understand when it's safe to go outside."

The NHL extended its self-quarantine period for players and staff through April 30.

The League has been looking at various forms of testing. Commissioner Bettman said it must have the appropriate medical protocols in place, especially with players now spread across North America and Europe.

"When we decide it's time to play, we've got to get everybody back and be comfortable that not only are we not only infecting the population of players, but that we're not bringing the coronavirus from other places into jurisdictions where the players and other personnel are going," the Commissioner said.

Commissioner Bettman said after speaking to players and the NHL Players' Association, the League knows players will need 2-3 weeks to get into game shape. They have not had access to team facilities to work out, or to ice to skate.

"Our health and safety concerns are first and foremost [related to the virus], and secondly, we don't want our players risking injury prematurely," the Commissioner said.

The Commissioner said the NHL has been exploring the possibility of neutral sites for games because the effect of the coronavirus might differ by location, and that might be the safest, most efficient alternative.

When the season was paused, the 31 teams had played from 68-71 games of the 82-game regular season and all but one team were contending for berths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"Our competitive balance is so extraordinary, there are seven, at least, seven teams that were on the bubble of making the playoffs," Commissioner Bettman said, "and not all the teams have played the same number of games.

"Whenever we do to come back -- and this is where I'm talking about being agile and flexible -- we're going to have to do something, whether it's complete the regular season in whole or in part, whether or not it's expanded playoffs, we're going to have to do something that's fair and has integrity.

"That's going to be very important no matter what it is we do, and we're considering all of the alternatives, and nothing has been ruled in, and nothing has been ruled out."

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