NHL commissioner Gary Bettman appeared on Sportsnet’s “Hockey Central” on Thursday to discuss the future of the 2019-20 season after it was paused in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, the impact on next season, and Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert testing positive for the virus.
“We had been constantly analyzing what was evolving with what the situation was and what our responses would be and the contingencies we were exploring whether or not it was time to shut it down, … take a break, … how he would continue to play in all empty buildings relative to the fans or in partially empty buildings depending on what jurisdictions are doing,” Bettman said.
“In all of those scenarios, every conversation I had, internally or with clubs, I ended with the caveat you have to understand that if I player tests positive [for the virus], we’re done. I always understood that to be the case. When I saw [Gobert] tested positive, it was clear that the NBA would have no choice,” he continued.
“My immediate reaction was … at this point, that it was inevitable that an NHL player would test positive. We’re not going to get through the season as scheduled at this point and we might as well just shut down now so we don’t get to the point the NBA did and have a building and players not taking the ice is appropriate. It was at that point where I was like ‘Ok, it’s time to take a pause’ and I immediately made arrangements for a conference call with the board of governors the next day. There was no doubt in my mind we were going to be but there was no reason for me to say ‘we’re taking a pause,'” Bettman explained. “We did it in the afternoon to accommodate the West coast and I answered a lot of questions in terms of what would happen. When the call ended, we issued the release saying that we weren’t going to play for a bit.”
Bettman wanted to get ahead on postponing the rest of the season before an NHL player tested positive for the virus.
“This is hopefully a once in a lifetime thing for all of us,” he told the show.
Bettman told the show that the NHL has an internal task force that meets twice a day and “we’re exploring every contingency.” They are currently looking at the calendar and doing “all sorts of modeling,” which includes “constantly reorganizing and reworking that.” He described it as “a puzzle but this is a unique one in that you won’t know what it’s going to look like when you’re done.”
He acknowledged that determining when the NHL returns need to be done right, saying, “All we can do is make every conceivable plan so we’re in a position to act appropriately.” He added that they need to listen to medical professionals.
Bettman knows that the NHL events (including the draft and free agency) during the summer also need to be addressed. “You explore everything,” he responded when asked about the offseason. He is currently not concerned about next season as he said “we have bigger problems than that … I expect next season to be a normal [one].”
On working with the NBA in terms of rescheduling when it is safe to return, Bettman said that “[We and the NBA] have to make our own decisions. … Since we share [a lot of arenas], we need to make sure that we’re not tripping over each other [when rescheduling]. The overlap is interesting because there were a couple teams (including the Washington Capitals) who used the locker room the Jazz used (at Madison Square Garden last week) within two hours. [The Capitals] were there the next day and [the Tampa Bay Lightning were] in Boston and Detroit after the Jazz.”
Bettman did not want to speculate for what the near future will hold but did say that “Everything [is under] consideration.” However, “that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. … We’re analyzing every conceivable option that’s available to us.” He mentioned that options could change as time progressed but hopes to finish the season and award the Stanley Cup.
All of the NHL employees have been sent home to keep everyone healthy and Bettman has been on calls all day, he said.
“This is very sad,” he concluded.
By Harrison Brown