Keeping the integrity and meaning of the Stanley Cup playoffs intact, yet responsibly doing his part to curb the spread of coronavirus while helping those most impacted by the current pandemic.
Is there room for it all?
Arguably the most recognizable and storied championship trophy in all of professional sports, the level of prestige and mystique that follows the Cup around has been earned and built over the past century due in large part to the gruelling process it takes to get there, and the NHL, obviously, doesn’t want the COVID-19 outbreak to cheapen any aspect of its marquee marketing catalyst.
Commissioner Gary Bettman hopped on a couple of prominent radio programs on Monday to make it clear the league isn’t willing to sacrifice any part of the Cup’s legacy or what it means to earn it, if the NHL does attempt to finish the 2019-20 season with a postseason of some kind, that is.
“The most important thing will be if we come back is that the tournament or competition we put on has integrity and does justice to the history and tradition of the Stanley Cup,” Bettman said on TSN 1050’s Overdrive program Monday evening, hinting that an abbreviated single-elimination or 2-out-of-3 bracket-style showdown—one that many would surely gobble up from a consumer and entertainment standpoint—wouldn’t necessarily be worth tainting the value of the trophy or what it means to earn it.
He didn’t divulge too far into specifics—there surely aren’t any to disclose yet anyways—but Bettman said on SiriusXM NHL earlier in the day he doesn’t see a reason to cancel the season yet, as it’s possible things could potentially resume in a couple of months, at which point the league would hope to implement a postseason format that both teams and fans will think is “fair.”
The situation has gotten increasingly tense and more chaotic seemingly each and every hour since, but Bettman spoke with cautious optimism a day after he and the league’s team owners decided to postpone the season indefinitely as COVID-19 continued to spread rapidly across the U.S. and most of the rest of the world.
“We may have the benefit of time to complete the season and the playoffs in an appropriate manner, and there's no reason at this point in time to preclude any of our options, even though we don't know what they are yet,” Bettman said on Friday, via NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.
“This isn't an independent determination,” Bettman added. “We're going to have to rely on others as to when it's safe, which is why people can speculate but nobody can predict with certainty.
"Obviously it's conceivable that we'll play beyond the time we were originally scheduled to conclude. How much longer we could do that is something we're trying to determine, and not just what the timing of all this might be. We also are considering what playing alternatives there are that fit within the window that may be left. And so it's a bit of a puzzle, and part of the problem is, we don't know what all the pieces are yet.”
Not only do we not what all the pieces are, we have no clue where they’ll all fit once things become a little more clear. The situation remains about as fluid as fluid can be.
NHL pushes back timeline on resumption of season
On Monday, the NHL cleared players to return home, even if that means crossing borders, where they will be required to self-isolate through March 27.
The NHL said it will consider reopening facilities following the self-quarantine period “depending on world developments,” although they will not be able to provide guidance on the potential green-lightning of full team practices for at least another 45 days, which would be at the end of April.
But with the CDC recommending against gatherings of 50 or more people in the U.S. for 60 days, the earliest we’d see players return to the ice in larger groups wouldn’t be until mid-May, but that’s incredibly unlikely.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported this week NBA owners and executives believe the best case scenario is the season resumes without fans in attendance in mid-to-late June, and you have to assume the NHL, along with other major professional sports leagues in North America, are operating on the same timeline.
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