NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is optimistic hockey will return this summer.
Bettman told Fox Business Network on Wednesday the league is focused on being as flexible and agile as possible as it weighs options after the season was paused March 12 because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
“My guess at this point is, we’re probably going to be playing into the summer, which is something that we can certainly do,” Bettman said in an interview with host Maria Bartiromo.
Bettman is scheduled to participate in a conference call with President Donald Trump on Wednesday and is part of a committee of sports leaders advising the president about reopening the economy.
The NHL extended its recommendation for players and staff to self-quarantine through April 30.
“First and foremost, from our standpoint, we think people need to feel safe, and we don’t want to put anybody’s health at risk,” Bettman said. “And that applies to our players, all the personnel who put on a game and ultimately fans.
“So part of this is going to be a determination as to how to best understand when it’s safe to go outside.”
One of the early proposals for a return made by players was to have a training camp at the beginning of July and complete a portion of the regular season before holding the playoffs in August and September.
Bettman acknowledged the need for a two- to three-week training camp, and his comments Wednesday seemed to be in line with the proposed timetable. That also would allow the league to start the 2020-21 season in November and finish the Stanley Cup Final in late June in order to have a full schedule.
The league has not determined how it will set this season’s playoff field to account for teams not having played an equal number of games.
“We’re focused on those issues, and we have been, and we get a fair amount of lobbying from the clubs because they’re extraordinarily competitive,” Bettman said. “Whenever we do come back, and this is where I’m talking about being agile and flexible, we’re going to have to do something, whether it’s complete the regular season in whole or in part, whether or not it’s expanded playoffs, we’re going to have to do something that’s fair and has integrity.
“That’s going to be very important no matter what it is we do, and we’re considering all of the alternatives, and nothing has been ruled in, and nothing has been ruled out.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday he thinks professional sports can return this summer if events are held without fans and players stay in hotels.
Bettman confirmed the possibility of the NHL playing games at neutral sites, but said the league needs assurances that appropriate medical protocols are in place before it can resume play.
“Because keep in mind, we’re going to have to have our players travel from virtually all over the world,” Bettman said. “And so, when we decide it’s time to play, we’ve got to be able to get everybody back and be comfortable that not only are we not infecting the population of players, but that we’re not bringing the coronavirus from other places into jurisdictions where the players and other personnel are going.”