NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Talks 24-Team Playoff, COVID-19 Testing, More

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorMay 28, 2020

FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2012, file photo, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman listens as he meets with reporters after a meeting with team owners in New York. The National Hockey Leage Players' Association announces its decision whether to terminate the current collective bargaining agreement and set the clock ticking toward another potential work stoppage in 2020. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman went on SportsCenter on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics related to his league's proposed return to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Bettman covered the 24-team playoff format, hub cities to host the games and COVID-19 testing with ESPN's Sage Steele:

The NHL announced Tuesday that the postseason will expand from 16 to 24 teams this year, with the bottom eight teams in the East and West playoff fields going through a play-in round before the winners join the top four East and West teams in a 16-team postseason bracket.

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 Bettman explained the thought process behind the move:

"Our competitive balance is so extraordinary. Our races to the playoffs go down to the last few games of the regular season that we had a number of teams on the bubble, and we didn't think it was fair to just use the standings as of March 12 when we took the pause, so the view was come up with a framework that made sense, that was fair, that had integrity and that would justify winning the Stanley Cup."

Steele then asked Bettman what the reaction has been like around the league, to which Bettman replied that "Overall, the reaction is that this has been fair, this has made a lot of sense." He did concede, however, that some teams and their fans might have different opinions based on where they slot in the playoff bracket.

The NHLPA Executive Board approved the plan by a 29-2 vote, with only the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning voting no.

As for where the games will take place, Bettman said the teams would play in two hub cities, which have yet to be decided. The NHL announced 10 finalists (seven American cities, three Canadian cities). He outlined the process behind choosing that list based on the NHL's needs:

"We went through all of our teams, we knew we needed it to be in one of our buildings because we could be playing as many as three games a day, and really only an NHL building could really accommodate us that way. ...

"However, we don't want to go to a place where there's an issue with an outbreak of COVID-19, a spike, and we want to be in a place where there can be ample testing, because our players are going to have to be tested every day, or at least every other day, and we want to be in a place where we can do that testing without interfering with the medical needs of the community. ...

"This is a decision we'll have to make in three weeks, give or take, and at that point, we can do a better assessment of which of these cities would be the best situation to make sure that our players, our teams and their traveling parties and the community itself would be best from a safety and health standpoint."

The biggest issue of them all is the safety of the players, coaches and anyone else involved with games or game-day operations, in addition to the hub city communities. Steele asked Bettman what would happen when (not if) a player tested positive. The commissioner responded:

"That's going to be in the judgment of the medical people that are giving us advice. What we're hearing⁠—and there are a lot of medical experts that we consult and weigh in with⁠—we're hearing, that if you have one [positive] test, you quarantine that player and you're not done. If there's multiple tests and an outbreak, that's a different story, but that's a judgment that the doctors are going to be telling us and the health people from the community that we're in terms of what will be appropriate. That won't be a call we'll make, we're gonna leave that to the experts."

There is no concrete timetable for the NHL's return to the ice, although signs point to the league finishing a season suspended March 12 because of the pandemic.