(Reuters) - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday the league is not in a race with other North American sports to resume play amid the coronavirus outbreak, which could yet wipe out the rest of the season.
Bettman, in an interview with Sportsnet’s Ron MacLean posted on Facebook, said the NHL would not be taking any risks when they did decide on a return date given that the players have not even skated since mid-March.
“This isn’t a race,” said Bettman. “The stakes are too important.
“While some of them may have been able to work out in terms of physical strength over the last few weeks, the fact is, none of our guys really have been on skates.
“We’re going to have to make sure that they’re in game-ready condition, because we don’t want to put them on the ice and risk injury and their careers.
“So we’re going to need time to come back right, and when we come back, it’ll be having done the right things.”
The NHL suspended play in mid-March as part of efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus with three weeks left in its 82-game regular season and the postseason scheduled to end in June.
There was hope the NHL would eventually squeeze in the remainder of the season, with some reports saying it was even exploring options of running the playoffs deep into the summer months in North America.
Bettman said a decision had been made against playing in non-NHL arenas at neutral sites in the event of a restart because those facilities would not be as well equipped to handle the league’s needs if it were to centralize games.
“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community, because if we’re going to be centralized, we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide, whether it’s multiple locker rooms, whether it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities,” said Bettman.
The NHL has had a number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus among its teams, which are spread across the United States and Canada.
Bettman was also asked about what a potential model for a return to the ice for its 31 teams would look like.
“Which one of the plans?” said Bettman. “We’re modeling, we’re trying to see what our options will be under whatever scenario unfolds.
“The decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who run governments at all different levels so we’re not going to try and do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Peter Rutherford