The next few weeks will feature hockey’s version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
That’s because more than half of the NHL’s players remain stationed outside of their team’s home city, commissioner Gary Bettman revealed on Monday night.
“Actually, 56 per cent of our players, roughly, aren’t in the places where their teams play and there’ll be training camp,” Bettman said in an interview with ESPN’s Mike Greenberg on Monday night. “So we’ve got a lot of people to move around and we have to get people back from outside of North America.”
Bettman and the NHL said previously that upwards of 17 per cent of players are currently overseas in Europe.
Facing a possible 14-day quarantine when they return, that would mean that NHL players would have to return to their team’s city by June 25 in order to be ready to participate in the opening of training camps on July 10 as scheduled. Numerous NHL teams have not opened their practice facilities over the last week for small individual group training sessions because they do not have enough players in town.
Bettman appeared Monday night on ESPN in a virtual commissioners’ Return to Sports roundtable with representatives from the other major professional sports, including NFL’s Roger Goodell, MLB’s Rob Manfred, NBA’s Adam Silver, MLS’ Don Garber and WNBA’s Cathy Engelbert.
Bettman acknowledged that players will go “the longest they have ever not skated,” but reiterated that the NHL’s 24-team return to play format will uphold the integrity of a Stanley Cup championship.
He said since the format includes four rounds of best-of-seven series, after the play-in and round-robin series are completed, is “what it takes, generally, to determine the Stanley Cup champion” in any given spring.
“And I think everybody can feel good, based on the combination of the play-in round and the way we’re gonna run the playoffs, that this will be a full competition which will bring out the best in our teams and our players, and the Stanley Cup Champion will be deserving of that crown and the most storied trophy in all of sports,” Bettman said.
The NHL has yet to formally decide on the two hub city host sites, though Las Vegas is one clear front-runner. Bettman said the league remains in negotiation with the Canadian federal government to create a workaround to the current 14-day quarantine requirement.
“If the players would have to quarantine for 14 days in between training camp and going to the hub, that wouldn’t work,” Bettman said.
To keep fans entertained on television, Bettman said the NHL has been pitched by “no fewer than 54 companies on various technologies to surround the games in the empty stands.”
“We will create an environment that will be exciting, will be entertaining, will be consistent with a competition that has integrity,” Bettman said. “It won’t be too gimmicky, but it’ll set the right tone and make it a good television product, which is what we’re ultimately gonna be for the conclusion of this year’s competition.”
Bettman also applauded the NHL players who have used their voice and platform over the last few weeks to combat racial injustice and social inequality.
"First of all, I’m very proud of the response we’ve gotten from our players. People say typically hockey players don’t speak out,” Bettman said. “But there’s been an awakening, an awareness; and our players have been very active. And over the last couple of decades, we as a sport have tried to do more than ever before to be inclusive and diverse. And it’s clear to us that we need so many other people to have the hard conversations, to be self-reflective, and not just talk about it but really institute programs that will make a difference – not just at the NHL level, but all levels of hockey, so that everybody can feel welcome being a part of this game.”
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli