The NHL will consider a December start to the 2020-21 season, commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL Network on Thursday.
“We have a great deal of flexibility in terms of when we can start,” Bettman said on Thursday. “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.”
The NHL suspended its season on March 12 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, the league sent a memo to its teams stating that it hopes to move ahead to “Phase 2” and begin opening team facilities for small group workouts in mid-to-late May.
“While the precise date…remains tentative and as yet undetermined, we do feel that we may be able—provided we continue to trend favorably—to move to ‘Phase 2’ at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May,” the league wrote in a statement.
Like the NBA, each NHL team is facing different local government restrictions, though travel could be especially difficult for professional hockey. The U.S.—Canada border remains closed amid the coronavirus pandemic and players currently at home in Europe may not be able to travel until June, at the earliest, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.
Bettman said Thursday there is no firm timeline or target dates for a possible return.
“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,” he said.
“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. We don’t want anybody getting injured.”
In early April, he said there was “there’s too much uncertainty” surrounding the league’s situation to make predictions about when games would return.
He added that while the “best thing, and the easiest thing” would be to complete the regular season and playoffs as usual, the league is currently looking at a number of different ways to finish the season.
Throughout the global health crisis, the NHL has decided not to mass test its players.
“We said, very definitively, that our medical experts, including governing health authorities, aren’t recommending mass testing—in part because the resources aren’t available, in part because it’s of limited utility at this point,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sports Illustrated‘s Alex Prewitt.
Daly told Sports Illustrated that the NHL does, however, keep a “master list” of tests obtained by anyone “associated with the league or our clubs,” players included. Teams are also asked to alert the league if any staffer becomes symptomatic.
The scouting combine and NHL draft, originally scheduled for June 1–6 and June 26–27, respectively, have also been postponed.