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Bettman: Next NHL Season Could Start Soon

Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn (17) warms up before taking on the Dallas Stars during NHL Stanley Cup finals hockey action in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Gary Bettman will take his first sigh of relief in months when he presents the Stanley Cup.

“Maybe I’ll get a full night sleep,” the NHL Commissioner said.

Maybe one, and then the work begins on next season. Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly had more questions of their own than answers next season, though it’s always been questionable if it will start on Dec. 1 as tentatively planned.

Bettman on Saturday raised the possibility of a start sometime later in December or even January, though the plan remains for each team to play 82 games and the league hold a full playoffs.

Much like its plan to resume this season, the league hopes to adapt to the pandemic circumstances in the U.S., Canada and worldwide and is open to adjusting on the fly as the situation evolves. Acknowledging there are factors like the U.S.-Canada border and local jurisdictions out of his control that could affect travel and attendance, Bettman indicated Saturday he wouldn’t be surprised if the season begins later than scheduled but would like to avoid playing deep into next summer.

“If there’s an option to consider, believe me, we’re considering it,” Bettman said during his annual pre- Stanley Cup Final news conference.

“It’s conceivable that we start without fans, that we move to socially distant fans at some point and by some point in time maybe our buildings are open.”

There’s no way to know yet what a 2020-21 NHL season will look like, and the league is watching what’s going on in European hockey and the other North American professional sports leagues and college athletics to see what’s possible.

“Our goal is to get back to as great a sense of normalcy as possible under whatever circumstances are presented,” Bettman said.

One of the circumstances at play is the closure of the U.S.-Canada border to nonessential travel, which has more of an effect on the NHL than other pro sports leagues because it has seven teams in Canada and 24 in the U.S. until Seattle becomes the 32nd franchise in 2021.

Canada did not allow Major League Baseball’s Blue Jays to play in Toronto this season because of cross-border travel by them and other teams. The Canadian government approved the NHL holding its playoffs in quarantined bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton but has not allowed family members who aren’t Canadian citizens join, as had been planned by the league and players.

“That application remains pending,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

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