For the first time since halting play four weeks ago, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday raised the possibility of not completing the regular season to squeeze in time to award the Stanley Cup.
Bettman also acknowledged in an interview with NBCSN that the league is considering having games played at neutral sites in the event not all teams will be allowed into their home rinks.
However, Bettman said that these are among myriad options being considered with nothing determined, because it would take at least two more weeks to gain a clearer picture on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the league’s 31 markets.
“We’re looking at all options. Nothing’s been ruled in. Nothing’s been ruled out,” Bettman said in the interview broadcast on the league’s US broadcast partner.
“The best thing and the easiest thing would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do,” he said. “We understand that may not be possible... and that’s why we’re considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”
Bettman had not previously raised the possibility of shortening the regular season, which was halted on March 12 with 189 games remaining.
The 16-team playoffs were scheduled to start yesterday, although they likely will not begin until late June — at the earliest — and could stretch into August and potentially September.
NHL players have been asked to self-quarantine through Wednesday next week, a date that has been pushed back twice already and is expected to be moved once again.
The number of NHL players who have tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday rose to eight as the league announced a third Colorado Avalanche player tested positive, joining five members of the Ottawa Senators.
The season was put on hold with teams having played an uneven amount of games and with tightly contested races taking place in each of the two conferences. The NHL has not placed a firm deadline on the latest when the playoffs could start.
However, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail to reporters that the league would eventually have to establish “some last possible day” so not to cut into the start of the following season.
“It’s nothing that we are even close to setting at this point in time,” he wrote.
The possibility of playing at neutral sites is being considered because the pandemic is affecting regions at different times.
North Dakota, among a handful of states without stay-at-home orders, was mentioned as a potential site, because the state is not densely populated and the University of North Dakota features an NHL-caliber facility.
Buffalo, New York, has also been discussed because the Sabres, who are out of contention, have a two-rink practice facility connected to their downtown arena and a 200-plus room hotel.
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