NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the media that “We understand we are going to need to be flexible and agile, and we are prepared to do that,” two days before opening night of the 2020-21 season.
Bettman confirmed that the Vegas Golden Knights will play the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, February 20 and the Philadelphia Flyers will face the Boston Bruins on Sunday, February 21 outdoors at Lake Tahoe. The event will be called “NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe.” The Golden Knights-Avalanche game will be presented by Bridgestone and the Flyers-Bruins game will be presented by Honda.
Bettman added that if the NHL could have fans in attendance and were looking to fill a stadium, the San Jose Sharks would have been considered. However, the league feels like they have two compelling matchups for a national TV audience.
On the flexibility of the season due to the pandemic, Bettman stated that “We have to be ready to adjust and adapt to anything that may happen. And we’re going to have to make judgments in real-time. What we try to do is try to have the maximum amount of info available.”
“It would be cheaper for us to shut the doors and not play. We’re going to lose more money at the Club level & League level by playing than by not playing. But the owners unanimously are OK with that, because they know how important it is to our fans and for the game,” he said.
When asked about the status of the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s 32nd franchise that is set to debut in October, Bettman told the media that “We are completely confident that the Seattle Kraken will be the 32nd member of our league in full-standing, reading to go (in October). Everything is going great.”
Bettman said that there have been financial measures put in place to handle the dollars lost for this season for all clubs and in order to get this season played. He added that “everyone is going to lose a lot of money to do that.”
On teams having advertisements on jerseys, he stated that “The jury is still out on jersey signage. And if we are going to do that, that was something that was important enough that I didn’t want to do it under these circumstances. Nobody should jump to any conclusions, in terms of what’s next.”
Bettman told the media that “it’s possible” there will be five to six teams that can have fans to start the season. He said that “maybe” the Pittsburgh Penguins will. Daly said that the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets might be able to, as well. The Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, and Arizona Coyotes are the only teams that will have fans to start the season as of right now, he added.
He stated that the goal is to get through the 2020-21 season, award the Stanley Cup, and that he hopes that life gets back to normal in the 2021-22 season. Bettman added that anything else is great, but he knows it is unrealistic that fans are going to be in every arena this season.
Bettman told the media that “The magnitude of the loss starts with a [billion]. We’re out of the [million] range and into the [billion].”
He continued on to say that COVID-19 testing numbers around NHL camps “have been very good” and added that the NHL plans to be cautious with results that come back positive.
On when the Dallas Stars may be able to resume team activities after their training camp was paused and six players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week, Bettman said that “We’re still trying to get our arms around how exactly the spread occurred. It’s a classic outbreak. But that said, we’re at the end (of it).” They will not play before next Monday and the team’s first three games will be rescheduled. Bettman added that the “medical people are meeting tonight” in Dallas to see when the Stars can reopen their practice facility.
Daly said that the NHL does not want teams to play “significantly shorthanded” this season as a result of positive COVID-19 tests, which will factor into when they need to postpone games. He added that the taxi squads are there to help adjust “on the fly.”
Daly said that puck and player tracking is up and running in every NHL arena.
Regarding the San Jose Sharks, who will start the season playing their home games in Glendale, Arizona due to local COVID-19 restrictions, Daly said that they are meeting with representatives from Santa Clara County tomorrow to get a better idea on if they will be able to play games at SAP Center this season. The Sharks will not play a game in San Jose until at least Monday, February 1 when they are scheduled to host the Vegas Golden Knights.
Bettman said the Sharks asked if they could play a game for local television at Lake Tahoe after the two games that are originally set to take place there. “That’s not something we’re in a position to focus on right now. We’re more focused on getting this season up and running,” he said he told the club.
Daly said that he told the NHL Players’ Association that he “wouldn’t even ask” them to go back into a bubble for the 2020-21 season after they played the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs in that environment. “Our players made an incredible sacrifice to be away from family and friends” and live in the bubble, he added.
Daly said that he does not believe there will be widespread vaccination for everyone participating in the 2020-21 season. Bettman added that NHL players and staff will get in line with everyone else when it comes to getting COVID-19 vaccines.
By Harrison Brown