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Bettman Talks NHL 2020-21 Season, Delivers Bad News

Gary Bettman held is annual media conference prior to tonight’s Game 1 Stanley Cup Final game and talked next season and start dates.

“Gary Bettman says he won’t be surprised if the 2020-21 NHL season starts later in December or in January.” This was the quote from Sportsnets Chris Johnston on Saturday as Zoom discussions took place prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This was Bettman’s traditional Cup final media conference. That said, it was anything but traditional considering the pandemic and current state of NHL games both this season and possibly next. The Commissioner said wouldn’t be surprised if the start of next season “slips”. But no definitive decisions and/or plans have been made yet.

He also didn’t rule out the possibility of an all-Canadian division, something that was recently circulating in the rumor mill as the league tries to navigate what travel will look like in 2020-21. That said, he made sure to note that any talk about next season at this stage “is nothing more than speculation.”

NHL COVID-19 Tests
NHL COVID-19 Tests

In regard to when the NHL would ideally like to run, he said, “My preference would be to stay out of summer as much as possible.”

And, in respect to whether or not the league would have fans at games, he responded, “It’s conceivable that we start with no fans, move to socially distanced fans” and then move to fuller buildings. “How we start isn’t necessarily how we’ll finish” next season.

Related: New NHL Projections for Next Season Troubling, and Just Plain “Bad” [Report]

One of the areas addressed was an expanded playoff format, similar to what the NHL did this season after the regular season couldn’t be completed. “I’ve never been a fan of expanding the playoffs. … It will take a fair amount of convincing, to me at least, that we need to be making a change.”

Family Joining in the NHL Bubble

Bill Daly hopped on the call and talked about family travel to get relatives into the NHL bubble. He noted the NHL talked to the Canadian government about bringing families in and midway through the league submitted a formal application for families in the bubble. It’s pending. “I don’t have a high level of expectations that it will be approved.”

Seattle Expansion Plans to Change?

Gary Bettman was asked if there is any scenario in which the NHL can envision Seattle’s entrance into the NHL. Would travel issues, attendance issues or ticket sales force the team and the league to hold off? “No. I want that answer to be as definitive as possible.”

It sounds like nothing will change the plan for Seattle to debut in 2021-22.

Seattle Kraken Name and Jersey
Seattle Kraken Name and Jersey

What About Financial Struggles For NHL Teams?

There’s been a lot of talk about how badly some NHL franchises are hurting with the economic downturn that has come with the coronavirus. Bettman responded to that as well saying the 31(soon to be 32) owners were standing stronger than they’ve ever stood together before and stated, “Our franchises will get through this and come out stronger on the other side.”

He noted that attendance impacts at least 50% of their revenues, so he didn’t shy away from admitting the teams have really seen things take a turn for the worst. At the same time, the bigger concern might be next season where clubs will have a hard time operating if that revenue isn’t coming in.

Specifically, he commented on the Arizona Coyotes and said he think they will be fine and are standing firm through all of this. That will be interesting to watch as talk of the team shedding salary has made front page news the past 24-48 hours.

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