While leaving the door open for a return, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged resuming the 2019-20 season may not be possible as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bettman discussed the current situation on NBC Sports' Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico (via Pro Hockey Talk's Sean Leahy):
"The best thing, and the easiest thing, would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do. We understand that that may not be possible and that's why we're considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is. Again, it doesn't even pay to speculate because nobody in any of the sports knows enough now to make those profound decisions."
Bettman was among the group of sports commissioners invited to a teleconference with President Donald Trump on Saturday. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski, Trump said during the meeting he would like to see games with fans in attendance by August or September.
However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom questioned whether he'd sign off on allowing large crowds that soon:
Bettman also downplayed the presence of any tangible progress from the conference call with Trump.
"I think right now there's too much uncertainty," he said to Tirico. "Hopefully we'll all know more by the end of April. From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options. We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light—and the green light may not be crystal clear because there may still be some places in the [U.S. and Canada] where we can't play and others places where you can. We're looking at all options."
Since their seasons overlap, the NBA can serve as a barometer for the NHL when it comes to resuming play.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported that "the pessimism is really growing" inside the NBA and that ongoing discussions among the league, teams and players have begun to center around handling the financial consequences.
According to Wojnarowski, the NBA views Labor Day weekend in early September as the latest it would be willing to go to complete the current season.
However, Wojnarowski explained how restarting play—even in a tightly controlled atmosphere—would be difficult because one player testing positive could require everything to go on hold again.
That will obviously be a consideration for Bettman and the NHL as well.
The Ottawa Senators confirmed six members of their organization tested positive for the coronavirus, with all six making a full recovery. The NHL announced Tuesday a third player tested positive for the disease as well.