The NHL's plan to resume the 2019-20 season will have "an environment that will be exciting, will be entertaining, will be consistent with a competition that has integrity" and "won't be too gimmicky," Gary Bettman told ESPN on Monday.
Bettman spoke about the NHL's plan to return with Mike Greenberg for ESPN‘s “The Return of Sports” special, which will air 9 p.m. Monday.
The NHL's return-to-play, 24-team format involves the top four teams in each conference (as determined by points percentage) receiving byes through the qualifying round, but playing three in-conference games to determine seeding for the next round. The No. 5 through No. 12 seeded teams in each conference will play best-of-five series. After the qualifying round, there will be 16 teams remaining, and the postseason will finish with four best-of-seven series.
"I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we're going to run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players," Bettman said. "The Stanley Cup champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports."
When to the television broadcasts of the games, Bettman said the league is still considering their options. He told ESPN that 54 companies have reached out to the NHL with plans to enhance the broadcast experience due to the lack of fans that will be in attendance.
During the current portion of the NHL's return-to-play plan, Phase 2, players are able to participate in small, voluntary group skates in NHL facilities. Players and staff are still expected to maintain some level of social distancing, and are tested for coronavirus twice per week. Once the season resumes, the NHL will test players and staff on a daily basis.
Several players and team employees have tested positive for coronavirus since the NHL season shut down in March. The Penguins announced on June 4 that a player tested positive for the virus and recovered. The Senators have had five unnamed players, a staff member, and a radio broadcaster test positive. Three Avalanche players have also tested positive, as well as one team employee for the Coyotes.
If a player or staff member tests positive after the season restarts, Bettman said that it won't necessarily shut down the season.
"If there's one positive test -- again, this will be under the strict guidance of the medical people -- that person will be isolated," Bettman said. "And we'll be monitoring anybody, through contract tracing, that was in close proximity. Obviously, for any sport, if you have a major outbreak, it's going to change everything; but we're being told that an isolated case or a couple of isolated cases shouldn't interfere with the plans, and we should be able to move forward."
The NHL is expected to announce its two hub cities, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference, later this month. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Friday that hotels in Las Vegas have been making preparations to host the NHL, but they have not yet been confirmed to be one of the two hub cities.
In addition to Las Vegas, the NHL’s shortlist of hub city candidates includes Pittsburgh, Columbus, Toronto, Chicago, Dallas, Edmonton, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Vancouver.
The Canadian government currently requires a 14-day quarantine period for anyone re-entering Canada, which could present a problem for the three Canadian cities vying to be a hub city. Bettman told ESPN on Monday that the league is working with the Canadian government to potentially loosen the restrictions, which could allow Canadian teams to hold their training camps in their own cities, and potentially allow a Canadian city to be a hub city.
"We are working particularly with the Canadian government about determining how we can deal with moving from the training camp phase to a possible hub in Canada," Bettman said. "Because obviously if the players would have to quarantine for 14 days in between training camp and going to the hub, that wouldn't work."
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