There are two to four games left in the tumultuous 2019-20 NHL campaign before the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Dallas Stars lift the Stanley Cup.
However, there are serious doubts as to whether the hockey season will resume at many points early in the year, which is one reason Gary Betman is proud of what the NHL achieved with two balloons this summer. Established in Edmonton and Toronto.
“It’s not great,” the NHL commissioner told Hockey Central on Thursday.
As hockey fans know, the NHL took an indefinite break on March 12 due to all concerns and questions about the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the break, the league developed a return to play plan, a modified 24-team playoff format where Eastern conference teams would compete at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and Western conference teams playing at Rogers Place in Edmonton – also at the Stanley Bowl.
The league worked with teams to increase coronavirus testing at training camps in July and since then the game has officially resumed on August 1st. The league has not seen positive tests.
“Under the leadership of (NHL Chief Content Officer) Steve Meyer, there are 150 people working here between Bubble in Toronto and Bubble in Edmonton, focusing on every little detail to be as safe as possible, the first priority – health and safety being the most important – and making it as comfortable as possible.” Betman explained.
“This is a testament to the provinces of Ontario and Alberta, as well as to the Canadian government, where I waited until the last second to decide that COVID-19 was in such a state – and some criticized it – we went to safer places because communities are safer than anywhere else in North America.”
At this point, Lightning and the Stars have a bubble life of more than 60 days and some league staff have been bubble alone for more than 70 days, Betman said.
“We have always believed that if we could get into the bubble, we would have a better chance of keeping everyone healthy,” Betman said. “I do not want to jinx it because I’m not done yet, but it’s a testament to the vigilance with which players and other team staff adhere to the protocols we have developed.
“This is the ultimate collaboration effort with us and the Players’ Association and the players, through which we are really committed to what needs to be done.”
Betman said more than 32,000 COVID-19 tests were performed on the bubbles.
He was impressed with the excellent conditioning of all the players, considering the long dismissal, as most players do not have regular access to ice and training facilities.
As Betman has been to many times over the past week, he has stated that the NHL’s goal is to have the 2020-21 season fully played, not in balloons, and to have fans in league buildings. When it is safe to do so.