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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman slows down rumors on next season: ‘Still too much we don’t know’

With just a few days remaining in the pandemic-delayed 2019/20 National Hockey League season, many hockey fans are wondering when the next campaign will begin.

December? January? Not at all? 82 games? 60 games? Hub cities? Full travel?

Slow down, says the NHL’s boss.

“Anything that anybody suggests — or reads, or writes, or commentates — about next season is nothing more than speculation,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during a Zoom media conference Saturday afternoon.

Bettman said he wants an 82-game season with full playoffs. Other than that, the league is considering all options.

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“Dec. 1 has always been a notional date. I will not be surprised if it slips into later December. It could slip into January,” Bettman said. “But there’s no point right now in making any definitive comments on our plans, because there’s still too much we don’t know. Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States is going to be open by a date certain.

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“Nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be. Nobody can tell me whether or not our arenas can have either socially distanced or fully-occupied buildings.”

Bettman believes the NHL will come out of the pandemic in good shape despite a significant drop in revenue. He said the ownership as a whole is stronger than ever.

“Yes, there will be a revenue hit,” said Bettman. “It’s no secret that attendance directly and indirectly impacts at least 50 per cent of our revenues.”

Click to play video 'Oilers 50/50 draw is back for the Stanley Cup finals' Oilers 50/50 draw is back for the Stanley Cup finals
Oilers 50/50 draw is back for the Stanley Cup finals

The playoffs have been contested without fans in Edmonton and Toronto, but going a full regular season without anyone in the seats would deepen the financial hole.

“We recognize the importance of having fans in the building to our business. We want to maximize the circumstances where fans can attend our games. We can wait a certain amount of time to try to accommodate that. But at the end of the day, we also want to play [the] season,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
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“It’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point, and at some point in time maybe our buildings are open,” added Bettman. “How we start doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how we have to finish.”

Because of the shortened regular season, the playoffs were expanded from 16 teams to 24. It meant an extra round of games and some big upsets. What about permanently letting more teams into the tournament?

“I’ve never been a fan of expanding the playoffs,” said Bettman. “I still believe our competitive balance in our regular season is the strongest in all sports. It will take a fair amount of convincing, to me at least, that we need to be making a change.”