The NHL has narrowed its list of potential venues to eight or nine sites that can accommodate “a dozen or so teams in one location” if the league resumes play this summer after pausing because of the coronavirus pandemic, commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday.
According to sources, roughly 15 markets submitted proposals to the NHL to become a hub city, including Las Vegas, Minnesota, Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver.
Bettman, appearing in a keynote interview for Leaders Week, a sports business conference, said that fans have been “overwhelmingly” supportive of seeing a Stanley Cup being awarded in 2020, “because people have an emotional investment in this season already.”
“I don’t think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now,” Bettman said. “We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we’re in a position to execute any or all of those options. There is still a great deal of uncertainty.”
Bettman noted that in centralized locations, the NHL would likely play multiple games per day without fans. The league also needs ample hotel space and the ability to regularly test players and staffers. The NHL is sensitive to ethical concerns of procuring tests — especially the perception that the league is taking them away from the public.
Last week, MLB reached a deal with a testing lab in Utah. The lab would provide coronavirus tests for roughly 3,000 baseball players and support staff but also provide thousands of tests to the public.
“I am told that there can be enough capacity, and certainly over the next couple of months, there will be more capacity,” Bettman said. “But that is a fundamental question, and we certainly can’t be jumping the line in front of medical needs.”
In recent days, the NHL has shifted its focus to a 24-team field, which would include bubble teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks and Montreal Canadiens. Plans, however, have been fluid. The NHL and NHLPA’s jointly appointed Return to Play Committee — which includes executives from both sides, as well as a handful of high-profile players — convened twice last week and kept communicating over the weekend. A person on the committee’s calls told ESPN that he is “optimistic” they will be able to announce something soon.
Once a return-to-play proposal is presented, the NHLPA executive board (consisting of a player rep from each of the 31 teams) will determine whether a full vote should take place.
Bettman noted that there are other obstacles to returning to play, including the fact that 17% of players are currently outside of North America and would need to return. Many borders remain closed, including the U.S. and Canada border, which is closed for nonessential business.
“Everything we’re hearing from our fans is that they’re [eager] to get back, and we don’t take that for granted, which is why we will do what the medical people tell us is necessary and appropriate for us to do to bring fans back,” Bettman said. “And again, everything we do is going to be governed by the doctors, the medical people and by governments at all levels, which will tell us what is and isn’t appropriate for us to do.
“So a lot of our planning and a lot of the issues we’re confronting ultimately are going to be resolved for us by other people, whether it’s physicians or whether it’s governmental leaders, and that’s why we have to be doing a lot of contingency planning so we can react to whatever they’re telling is us appropriate and permissible.”