Thirty-two days ago NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement announcing the 2019-20 season would be paused. Monday afternoon, he spoke with CNN’s Anderson Cooper regarding the return of the sport.
“We’re on pause as we have been since March 12,” he said. “We’re exploring all options, but when we’ll have an opportunity to return depends on things that we have absolutely no control over because it all starts with everybody’s health and wellbeing. Until there’s a sense that people can get together, not just in our arenas but for our players to get together to work out, we don’t know when we can come back but it’s something we’re monitoring on a daily basis.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic still holding a firm grasp on the United States and Canada, when the league might resume is still an unknown entity. Players were allowed to return to their homes outside of their respective NHL cities, with many returning to Europe or across the continent. The NHL also extended its self-quarantine period for players to April 15; it was originally mandated through March 27.
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Over the course of the last week, rumors have swirled that the NHL has been looking at neutral sites, including Grand Forks, North Dakota, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Saskatoon, Sask., to finish the regular season and play the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. This comes after Bettman told NBC Sports Network’s Mike Tirico on April 7, the NHL could come back over the summer now that the Olympics have been postponed to 2021. On CNN, Bettman added that the NHL is preparing to come back when the timing is right and cannot “rule out any conceivable alternative,” including playing games without fans.
Regardless of the format, if the NHL were to come back at some point in June, July or August, he stated that players will need “two or three weeks to get back into playing shape” as they have not been able to skate since the league shut down. During this break, players have only been able to work out at home and have not been able to skate, unless they were rehabbing an injury.
“As much as we may worry about everybody — not just our players or the NHL family — but everybody safe from the coronavirus, we also want to make sure our players don’t jeopardize their health by coming back too soon and not being in game shape,” he said.
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One way or another, hockey will return at some point and Bettman stressed that he, and his fellow commissioners around North America, understand the importance of sports returning — at the right time.
“It’s something that, for the psyche of the American and, in my case, the Canadian public is very important,” he told Cooper. “Sports can be part of bringing people together, can be part of healing, but we all agreed that until it’s the right time, there are other more pressing issues than when we come back.”