The NHL expects almost everything to be back to normal next season, commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday.
“We are hopeful, we are planning, we are optimistic and we believe that we are going to be able to start the next season in the usual times,” said Bettman.
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Speaking to the media a year after the start of a hiatus in the 2019-20 season due to the pandemic (March 12, 2020), the Commissioner highlighted the challenges the NHL has overcome and reasons to believe activities will return back to normal next season. That would include an 82-game schedule that fans could attend and a return to the original sections. A realignment of the sections had to be done for the current season due to the closure of the border between Canada and the United States.
“As we look forward, more than half of our teams have a limited number of fans inside the arenas,” said Bettman. As we see that number continue to rise – provided the pandemic cooperates and there are more and more vaccinations going on – we are optimistic that as the playoffs approach, the number of teams and the number of people will continue to increase. We will continue to make the necessary adjustments to complete the regular season and present the playoffs, and we remain optimistic that we can be very close if not completely back to normal for the start of next season. «
The realignment brought together the seven Canadian teams to form the Scotia North section. The 24 American teams were divided into three sections: East MassMutual, Centrale Discover and West Honda. Although the temporary realignment that could be adopted has had positive effects, including increasing the number of intrasection games and reducing travel, the NHL intends to return to the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central and Pacific sections next season. .
The Seattle Kraken’s expansion team, the 32nd in the League, would move to the Pacific section and the Arizona Coyotes would move from Pacific to Central.
“We’ve done several fan surveys and in this research what we’re finding is that two-thirds of our fans liked what we did this year and about two-thirds of fans think we should come back. to our traditions, Bettman explained. And I think it’s fair. The fans have been understanding, and even enthusiastic in some ways, about what we need to do in this unique season, but I think our traditional sections make more sense and are widely accepted. «
Even though the “The NHL Out on Lake Tahoe” event, where the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers played on February 20 and 21 without the presence of fans, has created some memorable images and was well very well received, the NHL wants to resume hosting outdoor games in stadiums where the fans can be.
The NHL would also like to resume playing games in Europe as early as next fall, but that may not be possible due to COVID-19 restrictions.
« If we are not in a position, for whatever reason, to hold these games next fall, I hope and expect that it will be possible in the following season, » said the assistant commissioner. of the NHL Bill Daly.
There are still a few hurdles to complete the current season. Part of the issue is how best to present the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Activities are limited within the four sections until the end of the regular season and for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
It is still unclear whether the Northern semi-finalists will be allowed to host American teams or travel to the United States, considering the rules imposed on Canada. Daly has been involved in discussions with the Canadian government about the issue and has said there is no deadline to find solutions.
“The first time a Canadian team had to travel outside of Canada or vice versa, that an American team had to travel to Canada, it would be mid-June. So we still have time to deal with the situation, ”summed up Daly.
Regarding the participation of NHL players in the Beijing Olympics in 2022, the deputy commissioner said he is in frequent communication with the International Ice Hockey Federation. He has also spoken with the NHL Players Association, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is currently much more focused on the Tokyo 2021 Games in the coming summer.
“The IOC is very busy with preparations for Tokyo, and while it has noted that this issue – hockey and the potential participation of the NHL and its players – is on the radar and needs to be addressed, it can’t handle this at the moment, Daly said. So the commitment (of the IOC) is to get in touch with the FIHG in the not too distant future, but once it has done what it has to do in connection with Tokyo. «
Commissioner Bettman was also keen to give credit to teams and players for their adherence to COVID-19 protocols, which have been adapted as the season has progressed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The NHL peaked with 59 players in COVID-19 protocol on February 12, but that number fell to just four on Wednesday.
« We had to adapt during the first two months of the season in extremely difficult conditions and we have been in contact with the medical experts every day to improve our protocols and this has allowed us to make ourselves more efficient, » said Bettman. […] Health and safety have always been and remain our main concern. That was our goal 365 days ago. It is still our priority today. «