Speaking in a virtual panel discussion during the 2020 Paley International Council Summit Tuesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed the reports and rumors that the NHL is considering using hybrid hubs and realigning divisions for the 2021 NHL regular season.
After stressing that he does not expect NHL players to play in two designated bubbles – as they did in the NHL Return To Play and the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs – Bettman acknowledged that temporary hubs are being considered.
“You’ll play for 10 to 12 days,” Gary Bettman explained. “You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need. It’s not going to be quite as effective as a bubble, but we think we can, if we go this route, minimize the risks to the extent practical and sensible. And so that’s one of the things that we’re talking about.”
Prior to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on October 9, the Commissioner was as close to adamant as one could be about starting the season on January 1 and having the NHL play a full 82-game schedule. He also stressed that while the league likely won’t begin with fans in the stands, that could change as the season and COVID situation evolves. On Tuesday, Gary Bettman seemed to be more understanding and realistic when it came to a start date for the season opener.
“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, and that may make sense, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense,” Bettman pointed out. “It may be that we’re better off, particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating, keeping it geographically centric, more divisional based, and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues.”
As for the potential of realignment and the reports of a Canadian Division that would keep all seven Canadian teams playing in Canada for the entire season?
“Obviously, we’re not going to move all seven Canadian franchises south of the 49th Parallel, and so we have to look at alternative ways to play,” Bettman said. “And while crossing the U.S.-Canadian border is an issue, we’re also seeing within the United States limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states. It’s again part of having to be flexible.”
According to the Commissioner, the NHL and NHLPA have yet to begin the brainstorming meetings they had leading into the NHL Return To Play over the summer but he and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly have been in constant touch with NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. Bettman stressed that once again, whatever plan they come up with and try to execute, it will be done as part of a joint effort between the league and the NHLPA.