Bound and determined to complete the 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday that games could be played doors closed to the public at as many as four regional league arenas with as many as three contests per day.
The NHL suspended play March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Ideally from our standpoint – and it would resolve a lot of issues – would be if we could complete the regular season, even if it’s on a centralized basis and then go into the (playoffs) the way we normally play them,” Bettman said in an interview with Sportsnet, a Canadian network. “That would be ideal. But that’s, again, one of the numerous models we’re looking at and if we can’t do ideal, if we can’t do perfect, we’re going to have to figure out what’s next to perfect.”
Bettman said the league decided against playing in non-NHL rinks at neutral sites. The University of North Dakota in Grand Forks was one possible location, but that was rejected in favor of playing in arenas geared to hosting NHL games.
“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community because if we’re going to be centralized we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide, whether it’s multiple locker rooms, whether it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities,” Bettman said.
The home arenas of the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild were among the facilities discussed, according to a report on ESPN.com. Each site would likely host teams from one of the league’s four divisions, with the Pacific Division’s Ducks and Kings playing in Edmonton.
The Ducks had 11 games remaining when play was halted; the Kings had 12. It’s likely the teams would not play each of their final games, and a new schedule would be drawn up rather than simply picking up where the teams left off in order to complete the centralized scenario.
The Ducks, Kings, Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights comprise the Pacific Division. Neither the Ducks nor the Kings were in a playoff position when play was suspended.
“Maybe it’ll be two cities,” Bettman said. “It’s not something that we can predict right at this moment, but this is part of the contingencies. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by division, although the centralization may be by division.
“But the particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hot spot (for the coronavirus) and has what we need both in terms of the arena and having practice facilities because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel there does need to be ice for practice.”
The NHL has asked players, staff and coaches to self-quarantine through April 30. It’s been reported that a training camp of up to three weeks would be held before play resumes, which would give the league a target date for the resumption of play in late May or early June at the earliest.
Two full months of playoffs could extend the season into August.
“This isn’t a race,” Bettman said. “The stakes are too important.”