By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman knows how to straddle a fence.
While the MLB begins to formulate their plan for a potential May return in Arizona, and with Las Vegas seemingly like a likely landing spot for the NBA season’s conclusion, Bettman remained noncommittal when it came to hockey’s return during an NBC Sports appearance on Tuesday, noting that there was too much uncertainty surrounding the game.
But they’re certainly looking at all possible options with the intentions of settling their season with a Stanley Cup.
“From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options,” Bettman, who noted that the league would know more at the end of April, offered. “We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light — and the green light may not be crystal clear because there may still be some places in the [U.S. and Canada] where we can’t play and others places where you can.
“We’re looking at all options; nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out. And it’s largely going to be determined what we do by how much time there is because we have next season to focus on as well.”
Examples of those roadblocks can be found in cities like Calgary and Toronto, where ‘public events’ have been canceled through June 30. You’d have to think NHL games would file under this umbrella. Both the Flames and Maple Leafs currently find themselves in playoff spots (and with relatively comfortable leads), too, seemingly axing the idea of true home dates. Even if they come without people in the stands (a strong likelihood given what the other leagues have pitched to date).
Bettman touched on the ‘media speculation’ of neutral site games — North Dakota and Manchester, N.H. have been brought up as potential options for the league — as part of that ‘all options’ approach from the league. He also touched on the fairness aspect of it all, and the desire for the team’s bubble teams to get a chance to prove that they’re indeed playoff worthy.
“When you talk about fairness, we also have issues about if we get to play a playoffs, who gets in if we can’t complete the regular season,” Bettman acknowledged. “We had seven teams on the bubble and all they think they would have had a chance. We have to deal with the lottery and order of selection in the draft.”
To Bettman’s point, the Rangers, for example, find themselves currently on the outside looking in. And Broadway’s Blueshirts, for what it’s worth, sit just two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and have been the fifth-best team in hockey since the start of the new year. Denying them a chance (even a slight one) to punch their ticket would seem cruel, especially after they opted not to sell at the trade deadline. The same argument can be made for the Minnesota Wild, who found themselves just one point out of the second wild card when the league pressed pause, and with two games in hand over the Jets, who are currently in the first wild card and have played two more games than the Wild.
“The best thing — and the easiest thing — would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do,” Bettman said. “[But] we understand that that may not be possible and that’s why we’re considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”
The biggest problem for the league right now, at least when it comes to a real finish, is that you would currently have playoff races truly decided by games played advantages, with some teams playing 71 games compared to another’s 68. That’s a potential six-point swing, and that’s sizable this time of year. (Just ask the 2015 and 2016 Bruins.) With a full 82 a complete pipedream at this point, the league’s best bet may come with an even 74 games for everybody, which would help settle some playoff races and also allow some of the league’s playoff-bound teams (like the Bruins) to get their legs back.
It’s believed that the NHL is willing to play games into August if they have to, but as Bettman noted, with everything in hold through the end of April, there’s simply no way of projecting anything even close to a schedule at this point in time.