Bettman, NHL Answer Additional Questions Regarding Return to Play Format

On Tuesday, the NHL announced plans for both their return to play 24-team format and the upcoming NHL Draft Lottery. For full details of each, you can click on the links to read the stories.

The NHL held a conference call Tuesday evening to answer some additional questions about their return to play scenario with members of the national media. I was on the call and will now share with you some of the biggest takeaways from this session.

Media Call Takeaways

  • Gary Bettman opened the call by saying they hope this is a step back towards normalcy. But in the end, the health and well-being of everyone involved is most important throughout.
  • Bill Daly added today was an important step, but reiterated that there is still a very long road ahead for everyone involved. “Hopefully today is a sign of things to come.”
  • Bettman said they will decide on the hub cities in 3-4 weeks. The big factors in play are how Covid-19 is doing in a particular place and the availability of testing, but not to interfere with the community as a whole.
  • On hub cities, Bettman said they wanted to keep lots of options open. That way they can adjust to anything that might change as time goes on. (ex: if a city gets a sudden spike in Covid-19.)
  • Bettman was asked about how the Bruins and Blues would view the round-robin. He said they considered lots of options. Ultimately, those teams would get a bye into the playoffs and an opportunity to play some real games before that started. He also added they’d play against a team that played in a more intense series just before.
  • In regards to testing, the league’s hope is to have all 24 teams having access and the ability to test all players. Recall in the memo the NHL sent out Monday, they want testing done twice/week. Then in Phase 3, the pace of testing will increase. Then in Phase 4, the NHL will control all protocols in hub cities.
  • Their hope for testing is that all players can be tested every evening with results available by the next morning before the player leaves the hotel.
  • Host teams will not be able to go home while they’re playing. They will be subject to the same conditions everyone else is should it come to that.
  • The NHL said that they are monitoring daily things in regards to travel especially with the borders. They said they have an understanding with the Canadian government with travel between borders. It sounds like there won’t be an issue there.
  • However, the league is still working through issues with the mandated Canadian quarantine. More to come on that front. It could ultimately impact if a Canadian city will become a hub city.
  • Daly admitted that there is some merit to moving a club to a different market especially if it is a team that would be a potential host.
  • Bettman said that they envision a full 2020-21 season regardless of what month it starts in. Anything from October-January is in play and they could play well into the summer if necessary.
  • There will be very little participation on the event floor in order to protect players. This sounds to us like there won’t be much in the way of media to player access like we are normally used to seeing.
  • But this does create a unique opportunity for TV and broadcasts. Arrangements are still being made at this point as to how that would look.
  • The league acknowledged there could be different offseason rules in play due to everything going on. The league will be sensitive to those kind of issues. So more to come on that front also.
  • The NHL reiterated that there will be expanded rosters with players permitted to play immediately should they choose. However teams will not be able to sign players to a current year contract. They can however sign for next season. They say allowing current year new contracts is not the best way to proceed.
  • There are still plenty of questions that have to be answered. One of those is will these games count towards different levels of free agency. The NHL still has to have those discussions, so nothing yet.
  • The NHL Awards could be virtual, Bettman said. They are still pondering that but is not ruling that out yet.
  • And finally for now, the NHL anticipates starting the 2020-21 season with fans. They will deal with and adjust to that as we go along.
Bill Daly
Bill Daly had lots of answers along with Gary Bettman but plenty of questions do remain. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

My Take

I give the NHL full credit for the way they are handling this. They are keeping safety at the forefront and not giving many definite dates at this time. In the words of Bettman, giving dates right now for things would be guessing.

But there is a plan. The league is ready to make the plan work. But they will only do so if it is safe for those involved. Today was an important day not only for hockey but for sports. We are heading slowly towards some normalcy. While it won’t be perfect and there are many questions still, I think we can all agree we can use hockey in our lives right now.

The NHL is doing their part. Let’s hope they can finish the deal.