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Gary Bettman says it might not be possible to complete NHL season normally

Helene Elliott
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.  (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

A third player on the Colorado Avalanche has tested positive for COVID-19, the NHL announced Tuesday, not long after Commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged for the first time that it might not be possible to finish the regular season and conduct the Stanley Cup playoffs as it traditionally has done.

Bettman also said during an interview on NBCSN that continuing uncertainty about the COVID-19 pandemic makes it impossible to project a time frame for a resumption of the season.

The positive test on the unnamed Colorado player brings to eight the number of NHL players known to have tested positive. The Ottawa Senators have acknowledged five positive tests among their players and one positive test among the members of their traveling party for games at San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles from March 7 through March 11. In addition, broadcaster John Kelly of St. Louis — which played at Honda Center on March 11 — and broadcaster Gord Wilson of Ottawa have said they had the novel coronavirus.

The NHL suspended play on March 12 with about 85% of its regular-season schedule complete. The regular season was scheduled to end last Saturday and the playoffs likely would have started Wednesday. The NHL has recommended players and staff members self-isolate through April 15 and is likely to extend that recommendation.

Speaking to Mike Tirico of NBCSN, Bettman said league executives are hopeful of having a better grasp on the situation by the end of this month. “We’re viewing all of our options. We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light,” he said. “Nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out.”

He added, “The best thing and the easiest thing would be if at some point if we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do. We understand that that may not be possible.”

Bettman said a potential playoff format would have to take into account the uneven number of games teams had played when the season was paused. “Everything we do needs to be fair," he said. "We are considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is.”

Staging playoff games at neutral sites is an option that has been discussed, with sites such as Grand Forks, N.D., and Buffalo as potential candidates to host playoff games. Playing deep into the summer is a viable option. "The days of when games had to be postponed because there was no air conditioning in a building are long behind us," Bettman said. "We can handle making ice now in any condition. ... Ice won’t be a factor.”

Bettman was among about a dozen commissioners and league presidents who participated in a conference call with President Trump last weekend, and Bettman described it as "a very cordial, constructive conversation." The consensus was that more information would be needed before any decisions could be made regarding resuming any league's season.

“All of us running sports are basically focused on the same things," Bettman said. "First and foremost, people’s health and well-being and safety is the most important, and while we all miss sports, either putting it on or watching it, and we all want to come back as quickly as possible, we understand what the No. 1 priority is.”