Modified bubbles still in play for NHL

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday that the target period to resume play remains mid-January but that the league and the NHLPA are still working through the key issue of exactly where the games will be played.
“Right now, we’re focused on whether or not we’re going to play in our buildings and do some limited traveling or play in a bubble, and that’s something we’re working on and getting medical advice on,” said Bettman.
The commissioner was speaking via video in a panel discussion at the World Hockey Forum in Moscow on holding domestic and international events during a pandemic. Bettman also mentioned other probabilities such as the fact that the league will almost certainly not be able to hold a full 82-game schedule and that, with travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, there will be a need to construct a division comprised of all seven Canadian teams and thus a realignment of the American-based teams.
It has been widely reported that the Bruins will play in an eastern division with the Rangers, Islanders, Capitals, Devils, Flyers, Penguins and Sabres.
But as far as the possibility of more bubble play, Bettman said that it would not be like the playoff bubbles the league had in Toronto and Edmonton. The Stanley Cup finalists Lightning and Stars were sequestered for two months and carried a “huge burden,” said Bettman. The league also must navigate through all the various federal, state and municipal guidelines and protocols throughout the continent.
“We don’t think we can conduct an entire regular season that way,” Bettman said. “But circumstances, depending on where COVID-19 is spiking and where the medical system is being taxed at any given time, may require us to adjust.
“So, for example, we have a couple of clubs that can’t hold training camp or conduct games even without fans in their current buildings and facilities, and we’re going to have to move them somewhere else to play.
“If enough teams can’t play, again, without fans, in their own facilities, then we may have to move more and more towards a hub. It may be that some teams are playing in other buildings. It may be that a whole group of teams have to play in other buildings.
“One of the things that we’re doing for the regular season, as we’re planning it, is we’re going to just play within our divisions, so we’re not going to play every team against everybody else in the course of a season.”
The Bruins, as well as several other teams across the league, have held discussions with local leaders about holding outdoor games as a means to recoup some lost revenue, but so far there doesn’t appear to be much support for the idea from the league.
The NBA has begun its preseason and the their regular season begins Dec. 22. While the NBA is set to play a 72-game season, most reports have had the NHL playing a 52- or 56-game schedule, though Bettman said the league is looking to play as many games as possible.
“Some of our challenges, again, with seven teams in Canada and having to realign, are a little more difficult than the NBA’s, and we’re watching very closely what their experience is,” said Bettman.
The two sides are still hoping to have a plan finalized by the end of the week so the two sides can vote on it. Other issues include possible expanded roster sizes and the salary cap ramifications. With the hope of an early January start to camp, players have been filtering back into their teams’ cities so they can undergo their required testing and quarantines prior to camp.
And there should be another wave of player movement at some point, with some attractive players like sniper Mike Hoffman still on the market. The preseason trade market could also be busy, with a host of teams still needing to get under the salary cap. The biggest outstanding piece of business for the Bruins, both literally and figuratively, is unrestricted free agent Zdeno Chara, the B’s captain for the last 14 years.
The 43-year-old Chara has been waiting to see what form the season will take before he decides what path to take. Hopefully, some clarity will be forthcoming.

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