National Hockey League Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, left, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the ice hockey NHL Global Series match Florida Panthers vs Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva via AP)

The insiders discuss possible ideas for concluding the 2019-20 season with a rejigged playoff format, while commissioner Gary Bettman discusses the complexities of finishing the season as late as July or August in today’s NHL Links.

NHL Links

Insider Trading: Players propose August-September to finish season (TSN)
On Insider Trading, Frank Seravalli, Pierre LeBrun, and Darren Dreger discussed what the conclusion of the NHL season and playoffs might look like if the 2019-20 season is to ever resume.

Seravalli on the ideas being bandied about by the players:

Some of the best players in the NHL — think Hart Trophy, Conn Smythe-calibre players — have been kicking around some ideas in some group chats. They are following along with the rest of the health experts knowing this may take until July or August for the coronavirus to really have enough people recover and build up immunity. They’re saying, ‘In these uncertain times, how can we find a way to potentially create some certainty here for the players?’

One idea that they’ve proposed is to open training camps at some point in July, and then play regular-season games — potentially enough to formulate the playoffs — and then start those playoffs in early August, have the Stanley Cup awarded by late September, and then begin a three-to-four week transition period in which you conduct the draft and free agency in October, followed by the start of a full 82-game season on a condensed schedule starting in November.

This is something that is making its way to the NHLPA. At that point, they’re hoping they can present something like this to the NHL, where I am told they are ready and willing to consider all options at this point. The NHL is certainly not in a position to be closing the door on just about anything at this point.

LeBrun on the other possibilities being discussed:

I spoke with an NHL Governor today who has had this idea as well, or at least a version of it. For him, it’d be straight to a 16-team playoff in August, August-September playoffs, and an October offseason.

The point he makes about the October offseason is that is the particular month where a lot of teams, particularly in the southern US, don’t want to have a lot of games. It is the perfect time, in his mind, to make the best of a bad situation — have the offseason in October and start the regular season in November.

His point is this: If the NHL tries to come back in May or June and there is a positive test, it shuts down the season again. Wait as long as you can, is this Governor’s opinion. It won’t mean this global pandemic will be done by August, but perhaps, hopefully, there are drugs in place or a better medical situation to deal with positive tests.

He has shared this idea with commissioner Gary Bettman and he hopes that Gary Bettman continues to have an open ear to this type of idea. At the end of the day, waiting — in his opinion — is the best way to go.

One last thing: The idea of having 20, 22, 24 teams in some kind of expanded playoff — I spoke to a GM today who said, “It doesn’t make sense to bring back some teams and they lose two games in a best-of-three and they’re out after their players are working out for eight weeks.” To him, you’ve got to go back to 16 teams.

I will say this, in talking to an NHL source today: There is no leading option right now that they’re looking at. It is too premature. They are having conversations about different modelling for potential playoff formats, but there isn’t one particular format they are buying into at this point. It is just too early.

LeBrun on the testing of NHL players for COVID-19:

Some NHL players have been tested, but so far as of 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, no players in the NHL have tested positive, according to both NHL and NHLPA sources. I suspect it will happen. Let’s be honest — like anyone else in North America right now, this is spreading, and in your everyday life — even with self-isolation — I just suspect we will have some at some point, but none so far.

To end on a positive, I just texted with Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are last in the Western Conference, so even if the season resumes, this is going to be it for the San Jose Sharks. I asked him if he still plans on coming back for another year — he is 41 in July — and he says, “I have years to go.” He indeed intends to come back with the San Jose Sharks whenever there is a season next year.

Bettman emphasizes the integrity of the game and the awarding of the Cup (TSN)
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman joined Overdrive to discuss the uncertainty around the resumption of the 2019-20 season and the different possibilities that exist if it were to resume.

Ultimately, it is going to be the authorities — medical and environmental — who basically give us the all clear to have gatherings. The gatherings could be full arenas. The gatherings, I suppose — I am not going there yet — could be that we could take the 200-300 people it takes to put on a game and have them play for television. I am not advocating it and it’s not something that we have decided on, but since everything is on the table, to get an all-clear of some sort will cause us to evaluate and re-evaluate, which is something we are doing on a constant basis.

With the events that have unfolded, I think everybody was playing catch-up for a while because we were saying this was day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. When the NBA had to shut down because they had a player test positive, we had a number of scenarios we were considering, but every scenario, everything we are planning on goes out the window if one of our player’s tests positive.

When the NBA basically had to stop a game where the building was full and the player had just tested positive and didn’t take the court, I had to say, “At this point, we are going to do something to get ahead of this. Ultimately, we are going to have a player who tests positives and gatherings aren’t going to be allowed.”

We still haven’t had, to the best of my knowledge, a positive test for a player, but I thought, under the circumstances, it was prudent for us to stop.

Other than that instance, we have been having to react to everything we have been told and everything that we are learning.

Bettman on the options on the table for a rejigged playoff format:

We are looking at every option. The most important thing will be, if we come back, that the tournament or the competition we put on will have integrity and does justice to the history and tradition of the Stanley Cup.

We don’t like to talk about things that we are just thinking about, but we are thinking about everything. You get speculation, and frankly, there is way too much speculation. Everything is on the table, but everything that we are considering has to be right. It has to make sense. It has to do justice to the competition.

Bettman on the difficulty of fitting in the rest of the season, an offseason, and the start of the 2020-21 season the longer the suspension of play lasts:

There has to be separation between whatever we do to conclude this season and the beginning of next season. I envision next season will be played in its entirety, subject to the world being healthy, with preseason and 82 regular-season games and playoffs, as we’ve come to know and love. Whether or not we have to focus on the calendar a little bit more specifically is something that we are focused on as well. I am not prepared to give a drop-dead date as to what the last date would be, but there needs to be time between however this season gets concluded and the beginning of the next season. Maybe it is July, maybe it is August — who knows? We will know at some point when we have more information and the issues become more concrete and real.

Bettman on the challenge of teams having made deadline trades already to improve their rosters for the rest of the 2019-20 season:

It is on the list of the myriad of issues that have to be addressed. There is no shortage of issues. There is no shortage of scenarios. The more information we have, the more real this becomes, and the more we are going to have to deal with them. But everything we do will have to be well-thought-out. It will have to be fair. It will have to have integrity for the game. But there may not be a perfect.

The great thing about sports is that people root, they have emotional connections, and they have a partisan view of things. But we are going to have to try to do the right thing. What will guide is is what is sensible and fair.

Bettman on whether the league has made recommendations to its clubs about paying part-time arena employees who are out of work:

That is something every club is looking at. The part-time employees on the arena staff varies from club to club and arena to arena. It is a little more complex than it may be portrayed. For example, there was one club having this discussion and trying to decide what to do, and it turns out something like 95% of the part-time staff actually had other full-time jobs. That is a different situation than somebody who has a complete need for whatever their arena job is. This is something that clubs are analyzing and trying to do the best they can. It is still new days, but for the most part, I think our clubs are focused on doing the right things.

Bettman on whether the league has ever considered the summer Olympics for hockey instead of the winter Olympics:

I’ve only been pitching it for 25 years. It’s not anything that the IOC has expressed any interest in. Based on their unwillingness to accommodate us, it is curious — and I don’t mean to accommodate us with a switch to the summer; even in terms of the arrangements we have tried to make in the five Olympics we have gone to in the winter and how disruptive they are. Hockey provides more ticket sales and hours of programming than any other event in the winter games. Among other things, the IOC will say, “The Olympic charter says snow and ice. That is where the sports for the winter games have to be played.” I get that, but it is really the reality of how important the tonnage is, putting aside the entertainment value, of hockey at the winter games.

Johnston: Hope dimming that the Stanley Cup will be lifted this year (Sportsnet)
Chris Johnston joined Hockey Central to discuss the likelihood of the 2019-20 season resuming.

I will say, in general, among those working for teams that I’ve talked to, optimism has waned a little bit. Some people were slow to realize how serious this was in the beginning. We went from playing games last Tuesday and Wednesday night, to the season being paused, to players staying close to home, now players can go away, to maybe resuming in April, and now it is mid-May at the earliest.

Some people have had to kind of wrap their minds around this in the last few days. No one knows with certainty what is going to happen. I certainly sense a little bit more pessimism about the ability for this to pass in time to allow the players to skate and get a training camp going and all of that — that’s from people who work for teams. Obviously, Gary Bettman has been clear about how the league feels and that they want to keep the light on as long as they can, and that everyone is hopeful we can see a Stanley Cup and playoffs. But I get the feeling it is a little bit more pessimistic out there for those working for front offices.

Johnston on whether there is a cut-off date for the season to resume:

My guess is it is somewhere around getting the season going in late May or early June. The league is certainly willing to play into July. They have asked teams for available building dates then. There have at least been contingency plans made where we would have NHL hockey played a time when we have never seen it played.

This has also got to be worth it. A number of conditions have to be in place. The league is looking to health agencies and government agencies to tell them when it is safe. You can be sure that they don’t want to start up if there is any serious risk of having to shut down again. I would think they need something in the range of 45 days, minimum, to do something that would have integrity in terms of determining a Stanley Cup winner.

Since they are unofficially willing to play somewhere up to around the summer Olympic games in Tokyo — which are scheduled for July 24 — they would need to be going by early June to have anything worth doing. That is still kind of fluid idea.