Gary Bettman says coronavirus raises many uncertainties for NHL, including start of 2020-2021 season

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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman admitted on Saturday that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the 2020-21 season start date “slips towards the end of December, [or] could slip in January. ““There’s still too much we don’t know,” Bettman said on Saturday, speaking from the Edmonton bubble ahead of the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. “No one can tell me if the border between Canada and the United States will be open by a certain date, no one can tell me what the state of COVID-19 will be, no one can tell us if our arenas will either have socially distant or fully occupied buildings. And we’re going to have to do the same thing we did to get back to the game: explore all the options, be flexible and agile enough to implement them when the time comes. ”

After a five-month hiatus, the NHL resumed play with a 24-team playoff series in two bubbles: one in Edmonton and one in Toronto. The event has been a success so far, with the league having administered more than 30,000 COVID-19 tests to date, with no confirmed positive cases.

Bettman reiterated that he plans to play 82 full games in the 2020-2021 season, but will not speculate on what this season format will look like. For example, if there could be a near-term realignment of the league, including the possibility of an all-Canadian division for 2020-2021 – something that has sparked speculation due to the continued closure of the Canadian border. .

“If there is an option to consider it, trust me, we will consider it,” Bettman said.

One option he doesn’t like is the continued expansion of the NHL playoffs beyond the typical 16 teams. “It will take a long time to convince, at least for me, that we need to make a change,” Bettman said. “I think what we did this year was what we had to do to be fair to the clubs on the bubble when it comes to the playoffs, and I think we did the right thing in that regard. , but I’m not necessarily sure it’s part of our future. ”

The NHL eventually wants to get back to its normal pace from October through June, with Bettman adding, “My preference would be to stay out of the summer as much as possible. ”

The NHL is motivated to award its 2021 Stanley Cup ahead of the start of the Tokyo Olympics in July 2021 – an event also broadcast by the NHL’s US television partner, NBC.

Whatever the schedule, Bettman said the earnings for the league and its teams will be sustainable next season. “While no one has any income to come up yet, owners write checks to cover overheads and expenses, our franchises will come out of this and come out stronger on the other side,” he said. he declares.

“The only good news in this context is that the ownership of the 31, soon to be 32, NHL franchises has never been stronger and healthier,” said Bettman. He said this included the Arizona Coyotes, as recent reports were causing them to miss bonus payouts to players and their arena management company, which Bettman attributed to the learning curve of a new group of owners on the operation of a franchise.

Bettman said attendance had a “direct and indirect” impact on at least 50 percent of NHL revenues. As for bringing fans back to the stands for NHL home games, Bettman speculated that the 2020-21 season would start without fans, move to “sort of socially distant fans at some point,” and then later “may. -be that our buildings are open ”to all fans.

“I’m not saying it is, but if you think about all the possibilities imaginable, there is a void, there is a full, there is a combination. How we start does not necessarily mean how we should end. ”

One of the biggest crowds the NHL draws each season is for the Winter Classic, which was slated for Jan. 1, 2021, at Target Field in Minneapolis between the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues. Bettman said he was not sure about the status of this game, but if it were to be postponed, the league would “catch up” to Minnesota fans.

Amid all this uncertainty, Bettman answered a question unequivocally: that the current disrupted schedule will not affect the Seattle Kraken’s entry into the league, slated for the 2021-22 season.

” No. I want this answer to be as definitive as possible, ”Bettman said. “They can’t wait to get started. The building is progressing, and we have every reason to believe that they will start when we start the season after the next. “

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