NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has maintained that the league is not ruling anything out in order to complete the now-suspended season. Among their options is continuing league-wide operations at a neutral location, though specifics have not been disclosed.
Reports have surfaced that Grand Forks, North Dakota and Manchester, New Hampshire were in consideration as potential host markets. However, Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, has denied any serious discussions regarding the locations.
“Other than the general understanding that they’re looking at all possibilities, which includes neutral sites — neutral being defined as a place that isn’t a home base for an NHL team,” Fehr revealed to ESPN. “We haven’t had those discussions yet.”
Location scouting is dependent on several factors. Cities would ideally not already house an NHL team and would be considered low-risk in terms of COVID-19 cases and vulnerability. Another factor would include the ability to accommodate all teams in the local area, though the league and players union are subject to health recommendations and travel restrictions, particularly with players who are currently isolating outside the U.S. or Canada.
“You’re going to want to know what the CDC says, without any question at all. But in addition to that, as we all know, the state governors and the provincial premiers have the basic responsibilities over their own jurisdictions, so you’re going to have to work with them too,” Fehr said. “The implication of the question is whether it’s OK to play in some places and not others. I don’t know if that’s true. I assume it’s certainly possible. If it is, we’ll see what makes sense.”
Borders are currently closed between the U.S. and Canada, which already presents an obstacle for returning given the league’s split team bases. Nonetheless, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have remained optimistic about completing the season and are prepared to play well into the summer months to achieve their goal.