News of a possible plan by the MLB to return to play in May has sparked optimism around the country that sports could be returning sooner than expected. For the NHL, however, any news of a possible return date is still weeks away at the earliest.
“I think right now there’s too much uncertainty," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday on NBCSN's new "Lunch Talk Live" show. "Hopefully we’ll all know more by the end of April. From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options. We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light…Nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out.”
President Donald Trump held a conference call with several leading sports figures including Bettman on Saturday, but Bettman remarked that call gave no clarity on any specific timetable for when sports might return.
"We're all going to have to wait until we have a lot more information, maybe in the next few weeks, before we can make any decisions," Bettman said.
The NHL season has been on pause since March 12. The regular season was scheduled to end this past Saturday with the Stanley Cup Playoffs beginning this week. Obviously, that has not happened.
Restarting the season will be no easy task and the deeper the league's pause goes into the spring and perhaps even the summer, the more difficult it becomes to finish out the remainder of the season. While there are some, such as Alex Ovechkin, who are advocating that the league jump right into the playoffs once play resumes, Bettman believes the best scenario remains to finish the regular season, though he is not sure if the league ultimately will be able to do so.
"The best thing and the easiest thing would be if at some point if we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do," Bettman said. "We understand that that may not be possible and that’s why we are considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”
But it wasn't all pessimism from Bettman on Tuesday.
Obviously, hockey is not in the cards until health officials begin to get the coronavirus pandemic under control. The fact that the NHL wants to have a full 82-game season next year means that the current pause can't go on perpetually. There has to be a drop-dead date in which this season cannot extend past in order to protect the 2020-21 season.
Whatever that date may be, however, it is probably not as early as you may think as the NHL is prepared to play into the summer to decide a champion.
While maintaining ice is certainly easier in lower temperatures when arenas do not have to deal with as much humidity, Bettman definitively stated, "Ice won't be a factor."
“I do believe we can play well into the summer," Bettman said. He added, "The days of when games had to be postponed because there was no air conditioning in a building are long behind us…We can handle making ice now in any condition."
If awarding the Stanley Cup in 2020 means summer hockey, that's what the league will do.
But for now, all we can do is wait as there are more important things to worry about now than just hockey.
“All of us running sports are basically focused on the same things," Bettman said. "First and foremost, people’s health and well-being and safety is the most important, and while we all miss sports, either putting it on or watching it, and we all want to come back as quickly as possible, we understand what the number one priority is.”
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