The regular season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and has officially ended.
Here are 10 key questions about the resumption of play that Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly answered during a videoconference with the media.
When do you expect the Qualifying Round and round-robin to start?
Commissioner Bettman: “I think that it’s conceivable that we’re playing at the end of July. It could be the beginning of August and then playing into September. So somewhere around that time frame. It may be that things open up quicker and players get back sooner and they’re in shape and they don’t want a prolonged training camp, and that we’re going take our guidance from the players on. Then it would accelerate a little bit. But I think realistically if we’re in training camp in mid-July that would be a good thing. Then, if we could be playing by the end of July or the beginning of August, that would be a good thing too. But if it has to slide more, then it will slide.”
Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver are being considered as possibilities to be the two hub cities to host the 12 Eastern Conference teams and 12 Western Conference teams. What will be the process of narrowing down that list to two?
Commissioner Bettman: “We believe that all of those cities, as a general matter, could be able to host us with the facilities — both the venues and the surrounding facilities — that we need. We don’t need to make a decision today. We probably need to make one in 3-4 weeks, and at that point we will be able to better evaluate how COVID-19 is in a particular place. That could be a positive or it could be a negative. We need to make sure that there’s enough testing available, and we’ll be needing lots and lots of testing. We don’t want to interfere with the medical needs of the community. That has to come first.
“And we want to just be in a position to in real time have lots of options once we understand what the state of play is at the time that we need to make a decision. We could pick one or two locations, but that might, if we made the decision today, not turn out to be as good a decision as one that we make three or four weeks from now because things are continuing to evolve in all of the places that we like.”
Will Canada’s mandate for a two-week quarantine when entering the country affect whether a Canadian city is chosen as a hub city?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “If we’re not able to [change] the interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room, we won’t be a in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub city. So we’re faced with having to find a solution to that. Hopefully we can.”
What will be the process be for testing, and how many tests will be needed?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “Our Phase 2 protocol (the reopening of team facilities for voluntary small group workouts) specifically specifies testing at least twice weekly and perhaps more. The League has worked hard in the interim to essentially be able to help clubs in the event they’re in need of testing resources. So we’ll be there to help provide those resources for them. Phase 3 then contemplates mandatory training camps in the club home cities, and during Phase 3 we would anticipate the pace of testing would increase even further. The Phase 3 protocol is a work in progress at this point, so that hasn’t been finalized. And then Phase 4, which is the competition phase, once we’re in the hub cities, the League is going to be in control of all the protocols related to the hub cities, and we will have regular daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they leave their hotel rooms the next morning. So we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine themselves as a result of that positive test.”
Commissioner Bettman: “If you’re looking for a number, we could be doing 25,000-30,000 tests. … And our medical advisers and some of the attendant medical advisers tell us that by the time we’re doing this over the summer that will be a relatively insignificant number of tests relative to the number of tests that will be available.”
Will one player testing positive require the League to be shut down again?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “Obviously that’s a key question and something we’ve been in constant communication with our medical advisers on. Their thought process at this point in time is that one single positive, depending on the circumstances, should not necessarily shut the whole operation down. Obviously we can’t be in a situation where we have an outbreak and that will affect our ability to continue playing, but a single positive test or isolated positive test throughout a two-month tournament should not necessarily mean an end to the tournament.”
Will rosters be expanded for this season, and will players added to the roster be eligible to play immediately or have to wait for an injury to someone already on the roster?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “We do envision expanded rosters. Since we’re really moving directly into a modified playoff format, players would be entitled to play immediately off of that expanded roster.”
Will players who signed contracts after the season was paused March 12 be eligible to play this season?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “This is something that we’re going to have to ultimately resolve with the [NHL] Players’ Association like so many other contractual issues, but the League’s position right now and our position with our clubs since the start of the pause is no club is entitled to sign (a player to) a current-year contract. They are free to sign future-year contracts, so for the 2020-21 season and beyond [that’s] perfectly fair game. But it would be our position, particularly given the advanced date and given the fact that a lot of the players might now be able to play the balance of the season, it may be unfair to let them play the balance of the season.”
Why was it to decided to hold the First Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on June 26?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “One of the things that went into the decision to create a new lottery system was for the advantage of the seven clubs who aren’t resuming play, that they have the ability to engage with their fan base on something during that long halt between games. We thought that the draft lottery was a way to create excitement, create a way for those teams to engage with their fan base, get some certainty early on and not go into kind of a long slumber of creating noise and buzz over the summertime.”
What went into the decision to wait until after the season is completed to hold the 2020 NHL Draft?
Deputy Commissioner Daly: “Obviously there was a lot of debate with respect to the possibility of moving the draft up and staging the draft before the resumption of play. We certainly felt like we had an acceptable window to accomplish that, if that was something we could do, and certainly there were reasons why we thought that might be a good idea. But as with most issues, we brought it to the clubs and there was not a strong consensus one way or the other, quite frankly, on whether we should do it. And, certainly, the people who were opposed to it felt strongly about being opposed to it. Some of the factors, probably the most significant one we gave the most weight to, was the lack of the ability to use the draft as an opportunity, as a jumping-off place for forming your next year’s roster, resetting in the offseason like many clubs do, the inability to have a trade associated with active players in and around the draft. Those were voiced I thought very articulately and certainly had a strong factor in what we ultimately decided to do.”
When will the 2020-21 season begin?
Commissioner Bettman: “We believe 2020-21 will be played in its entirety, the way we play a normal season. There’s no magic to starting in October. Our buildings, our markets can handle it. We could start in November. We could start in December. We could start at the beginning of January if we have to. We’re going to be playing over the summer this year, so the answer is we’ll get through this season and we’ll make sure there’s enough of a pause between the end of this season and next, and then we’ll start up again. We will have to deal with that probably in a couple months because we have to start working on a schedule, but we’re prepared to defer or delay the start of the 2020-21 season by at least, if we need to, a couple months.”