The disconnect was a little jarring when an ESPN SportsCenter special titled The Return of Sports began, and top billing went to the commissioner of Major League Baseball, whose league is ... well, not in great shape.
Fortunately for hockey fans, the NHL Return to Play continues to proceed with reasonable hope for a 2020 postseason, and Gary Bettman appeared on ESPN Monday to express his confidence in both the safety of the league’s testing protocols and the integrity of this year’s playoffs with regards to producing a legitimate Stanley Cup champion.
(Another jarring disconnect to hear “playoffs” and “integrity” mentioned so soon after Rob Manfred was on the screen, but enough of my tortured Dodgers fandom.)
Bettman assured host Mike Greenberg of ESPN that the league’s safety procedures to address the coronavirus are rigorous — players and team personnel will be tested daily — and based on consultation with medical experts.
“Everything we’ve been doing has been a joint effort [with the players], working together, to make sure that we’re adhering to the protocols which will be very strict, and we will carefully monitor with extensive testing all the players that are in the hub cities and the supporting personnel,” Bettman said.
“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, and again the notion and the way we’ve handled this is to create a bubble where we’re basically Covid-19 free.”
Bettman also acknowledged the injury players are assuming after such a long layoff from being on the ice. Patrick Kane, who appeared in a separate interview, said, “It sounds like we’ll have enough time (to get into shape).”
The final point Bettman made was that the validity of this year’s Stanley Cup champion should be unquestioned. Since 189 regular-season games remained when the league was suspended on March 12, the league updated its postseason format to give those teams in the playoff hunt a chance to compete for the title. However, beyond the opening round, this is essentially a regular postseason, and its winner should be treated as such. Bettman said that when discussing the Return to Play format with the player committee, “They felt as strongly about the integrity of the competition as we did.”
The players still have to vote to approve Phase 3 and Phase 4, but at this point, there appears to be synergy between the league and the union to move forward.
Do you have a good feeling about the NHL completing its 2019-20 season?
On to the links...
- Although Bettman said in January that player and puck tracking would debut in the 2020 postseason, the pandemic has reportedly put a hold on such technologies. As Greg Wyshynski notes, those features would have helped make up for the lack of atmosphere at the playoff games.
- Power rankings of offseason buyout candidates from Pro Hockey Talk.
- The Anaheim Ducks are implementing pay cuts for employees who make more than $75,000 annually.
- Doug Ward on the origin story of rookie Blake Lizotte.
- Rich Hammond ranked the best broadcasters in Los Angeles sports history.
- The Athletic polled NHL coaches for their awards picks, and Anze Kopitar came in fourth for the Selke.