It wasn’t quite Mark Messier’s famous 1994 guarantee against the Devils, but this week NHL commissioner Gary Bettman went as far to say he wasn’t “even contemplating” canceling the season.
“I believe that if the right time comes, and the right circumstances, based on all of the options that we’re considering and our ability to execute them, we’ll get this season done,” Bettman said Tuesday during a virtual town hall hosted by the San Jose Sharks, according to the Mercury News.
The comments came on the same day the NHL, NBA and the MLB met with their unions to figure out a way to restart and start (in the case of the MLB) their respective seasons. All three leagues are facing most of the same hurdles in reopening in the coming months due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The NHL and the players association have met for two days in a row, but still have a long ways to go, according to TSN and The Athletic reporter Pierre LeBrun.
“I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but canceling is too easy a solution,” the 67-year-old Bettman said. “That means you stop working hard to do all of the things that we’re doing, and I ultimately believe that there will be an opportunity.
“States are reopening, cities are reopening. And if we do the right things, I think we’ll be able to finish the season.”
There have been discussions that the NHL could hold training camp and then stage a 24-team playoff tournament (that would include the Rangers and Islanders) in July at one or a few locations, in order to help combat the spread of the virus, as previously reported by The Post’s Larry Brooks. The goal would be for players to be tested for the virus often, but that could be troublesome if the United States doesn’t increase testing.
Bettman, who has been commissioner for 27 years, also said pushing back next season was on the table.
“We would like to bring a conclusion to this season,” he said. “It’s got to be fair, it’s got to have integrity, and if we have to do it over the summer on some modified basis, then we’ll do it on that basis.
“You’re going to be a little flexible with the schedule, because we want to be able to bring the game back, both to conclude this season on some basis and to have a full regular season next year. If that means we need to be more flexible, then that’s what we’ll do.”
The 2019-20 season was paused on March 12 in response to the coronavirus, and players have remained under a stay-at-home advisory that is still in effect.
There has been no official timeline for opening team facilities, as the NBA did last week in states that have loosened social distancing restrictions. International and U.S.-Canada border-crossing restrictions in place also pose a tricky obstacle for the league, which has players from all over the world.
“We would like to bring a conclusion to this season,” Bettman said. “It’s got to be fair, it’s got to have integrity, and if we have to do it over the summer on some modified basis, then we’ll do it on that basis.”