Bettman: ’20-21 season could start as late as December

Sports

The NHL is in no rush to return from its shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with commissioner Gary Bettman saying the end of the current season could push back the start of next season as far as December.

FILE PHOTO: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the ice hockey NHL Global Series match of the Florida Panthers vs Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland November 1, 2018. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS

Speaking Thursday on NHL Network, Bettman said, “We have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start. There’s no magic for next season of starting in October as we traditionally do. If we have to start in November or December, that’s something that will be under consideration.

“We’re going to try to make good, prudent, careful judgments. This isn’t a race to be first back. When we come back, we want it to be at the right time, for the right reasons, under the right circumstances.”

As for a possible timeframe for the resumption of games, Bettman said, “I don’t think anybody knows for certain. We’re going to have to take things one step at a time, because the health and well-being of our players is paramount to anything we’re focused on. …

“We’d like to be able to get our training facilities open. We’d like our guys to be able to work themselves back into shape. But this is something we’re going to continue to evaluate on a day-to-day basis.”

According to Bettman, the state of the pandemic isn’t the only factor in terms of the potential restart of the season.

“Our health concerns for the players really fit into two categories: One is obviously COVID-19, and two, whatever we’re going to do, we don’t want them playing games until they’re back in game shape,” the commissioner said. “So we’re going to continue to monitor things, and when the guidance from the medical people is right and the governmental authorities are comfortable, then we’ll take step one, which is reopening our training facilities.”

Bettman said he is speaking regularly with NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr, and that league and union officials are collaborating as part of a Return to Play Committee.

“Having the committee that’s been put together with the players is important so that we can get the feedback on the issues that are important to them and how to resolve them, and that we can be communicating how we’re focusing on the things we think that need to be done,” Bettman said. “It’s been extraordinarily collaborative, constructive and cooperative, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the interaction that we’re having.”

The NHL season was suspended on March 12 with all teams having played between 68 and 71 of their scheduled 82 regular-season games.

At least eight NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19: five unnamed members of the Ottawa Senators and three unnamed members of the Colorado Avalanche.

—Field Level Media

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