The NHL is exploring short-term hubs, temporary realignment and a reduced schedule as options for the 2020-2021 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Tuesday.
Any plan would be a collaborative effort between the NHL and the NHL Players Association, much like the 2020 Return-to-Play plan. Although the two sides are in constant and regular communication, there has been no regular meetings.
If the teams play in the hubs, they will alternate.
“You will be playing for 10 to 12 days,” Commissioner Bettman said during a virtual panel discussion at the 2020 Paley International Council summit. “You will be playing a bunch of games without traveling. You will go home, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and whatever else you need.
“It won’t be as effective as a bubble, but we believe that we can, if we go this route, minimize the risk to the extent possible and reasonable. And so that’s one of the things we’re talking about. ”
Commissioner Bettman has said in the past that the NHL is aiming for a Jan. 1 start and that how the season starts isn’t necessarily how it ends, depending on how the situation unfolds.
The NHL and NHLPA will have to consider many factors, including the closure to non-essential travel of the border between the United States and Canada.
“Obviously, we are not going to move the seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th parallel, so we have to look at other ways of playing,” said Commissioner Bettman. “And while crossing the Canada-U.S. Border is a problem, we also see limitations in the US in terms of quarantine when you move from certain states to other states. This is again part of the need to be flexible.…
“On the travel issue, which is obviously the big unknown, we may need to realign temporarily to deal with geography, and that may make sense, as having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense.
“We may be better off, especially if we play a reduced schedule, which we envision, to keep it geographically centered, more division-based, and realign, again on a temporary basis, to do in the face of travel. problems. ”
Commissioner Bettman said that when the NHL returned after suspending the season on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, it had to transform into a studio sport, adapting the presentation of the game to a TV audience.
“What we were doing was trying to create an energy, excitement and coverage of our game that would be compelling in the absence of the fans,” he said.
TV ratings were down, as in all sports. Commissioner Bettman highlighted two factors:
First, the fans in the stands are giving the games energy that shines through on TV, and part of that has been missed.
Second, research has shown that while avid fans watched the NHL all the time, casual fans were less likely to watch this summer.
“And that’s where I think a lot of the fallout came in,” Commissioner Bettman said. “And while we are working on our return to play as well, which I hope to get to bed soon, our goal is to get back to a normal schedule from [next] fall and be done before July in the longer term. This is the goal. ”
Safety is the priority, however, and the NHL can help lead by example.
Commissioner Bettman was on the panel along with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Manfred said that when he returned to MLB he was focusing on how, as a daily sport, baseball would play thanks to a positive COVID-19 test. When he broke, he spoke on the phone with Commissioner Bettman.
“I was talking to Gary from my lair at home, and I remember we kind of came to the conclusion, maybe it’s not about playing through,” Manfred said. “Maybe what you really need to worry about is making sure this doesn’t spread.
“This conversation caused us to change our approach a bit. We had closures and we just accepted the fact that we were going to have to postpone to get through. But these are the kinds of conversations that I think make a real difference. “