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League committed to playing full 2020-2021 season, Bettman says

FILE PHOTO: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media prior to the ice hockey NHL Global Series match of the Florida Panthers vs Winnipeg Jets in Helsinki, Finland November 1, 2018. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen via REUTERS

(Reuters) - NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Saturday the league remained committed to playing a full 2020-2021 season and could even push the start until November or December to accommodate the end of its current season, which resumes Aug. 1.

Play was put on hold four months ago due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The games are slated to resume in a Stanley Cup tournament in Canada without fans in attendance, after players ratified a return-to-play plan and extension of a labor deal.

The schedule could see the 2020 Stanley Cup tournament finish as late as Oct. 4, around the time a regular NHL season typically begins.

“Looking at the schedule, making some adjustments, we believe we can play a full season and if we run a little later than usual, that may be one of the consequences,” Bettman told reporters. “We think it’s important, if we can, to complete the (2019-2020) season and if we start in November or December, so be it. We believe we have the flexibility to do that.”

The current season will play out in Toronto and Edmonton, with the two hub cities announced Friday after weeks of speculation, though Bettman told reporters some details needed to be finalized with the Canadian government.

Las Vegas, Nevada, previously rumored to be among the favorites to host, was ruled out during the planning process in part due to a spike in new cases of COVID-19 in the area, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.

“Obviously we understand some of the advantages of Vegas and some of the abilities to create the bubble tighter than it might be in other locations, but the fact that the COVID rate was spiking outside of what would be the bubble was a concern for us,” Daly said.

Under the return-to-play plan, participants will be tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving on site, and players will be expected to maintain proper social distancing and health precautions.

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Paul Simao

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