The NHL appears to have trained its focus on completing the regular season before a traditional 16-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament if permitted by relevant governing health bodies, multiple sources have told The Post.
Gary Bettman told Ron McLean on Wednesday night on SportsNet’s In Conversation that the league is considering a four-arena plan for a potential summer restart. While the commissioner said the NHL would not necessarily be broken down by divisions, our sources report that is the primary option under consideration.
It appears as if the league intends to complete the full 82-game schedule, but the schedule would be redrawn by quadrants. That’s why dividing the league by divisions and creating an exclusive intradivisional schedule is the focus.
As The Post first reported on Sunday, the league is seeking NHL cities to host games rather than neutral sites in small locales that do not have the infrastructure to support such an endeavor. Clearly urban centers and those locations expected to remain under social distancing recommendations and perhaps modified stay-at-home orders by mid-July would be eliminated.
Columbus and Carolina (Raleigh) would be options for the Metro Division; Tampa Bay and Florida (Sunrise) in the Atlantic; Minnesota and perhaps Colorado or Dallas in the Central and Calgary and Edmonton among those in the Pacific.
There is, we are told, one other Pacific-centric location that has not only not been eliminated by the league, but is under consideration. That, incredibly, is Las Vegas.
The NHL does seem to be building its own momentum for a July restart. Bettman, though, said that the league will adopt a safety-first approach in reaching its final decision.
“Anything we’re considering doing starts with health and well-being, whether it’s the players, or other personnel or fans or the community at large,” the commissioner said. “Everybody is going through a tough time.
“We’re hopeful that by doing the right things in the short term, that we’re able to come back and hopefully complete this season on some basis that is fair and has integrity.”
The Rangers entered the hiatus in 10th place, two points behind second wild-card Columbus, with each team having 12 games remaining. The Islanders were in ninth place, one point behind the Blue Jackets, but with two games in hand on the teams sandwiching them in the standings.
The Post has been told the plan includes expanding each team’s active roster to 30 players. As final paychecks are due May 15, it is unclear how added players would be paid, or whether they would be treated as playoff call-ups, who receive NHL per diem, housing and a rental car but no salary.
Bettman confirmed discussions about holding the draft in June before the season is completed, though he categorized that as a “trial balloon” and said no decisions have been made.
The Post has been told that team presidents have been pressing for a completion of the regular season rather than the league staging an immediate, expanded playoff tournament. Local television obligations and sponsorship deals are the root of the issue. One wonders, though, if networks are going to accept games played at 2 in the afternoon on a July day as the equivalent of a Thursday night game the third week of March?
Bettman said that three games a day would be played at each of the four selected arenas. That, of course, raises the issue of ice conditions, which will be difficult enough to maintain over the summer.
Bettman said that the league would listen to “medical people and government leaders” when it comes to admitting fans to games.
“I’ve seen a lot of polling on that,” he said. “I think there will be some social distancing for a while. I think there’ll be masks, Purell, lots of things.”
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