Bettman: Predicting next season's start 'nothing more than speculation'
Mike Stobe / National Hockey League / Getty

Gary Bettman says it's still far too early to determine when the NHL's next season will begin.

"Anything that anybody suggests or reads or writes or commentates about next season is nothing more than speculation," the NHL commissioner told reporters at his annual state of the league address before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday.

Bettman added he could imagine the campaign starting later than the initial target date, but reiterated nothing is close to being decided.

"We're still focused on getting through the conclusion of the 2019-20 season," Bettman said. "Obviously, we've started informally thinking about what optionality is. Dec. 1 has always been a notional date. I will not be surprised if it slips into later December, it could slip into January, but there's no point right now in making any definitive comments on our plans, because there's still too much we don't know.

"Nobody can tell me whether or not the border between Canada and the United States is going to be open by a (certain date), nobody can tell me what the state of COVID-19 is going to be, nobody can tell me whether or not our arenas will be able to have either socially distanced or fully occupied buildings, and we're going to have to do the same thing we did to get ready for the return to play: explore all the options, (and) be flexible and agile enough to implement when the appropriate time comes."

In terms of the logistics for 2020-21, Bettman said it's possible games start without fans before allowing socially distanced spectators and then potentially opening things up to more full arenas.

"How we start isn't necessarily how we'll finish," he told reporters, according to ESPN's Greg Wyshynski.

As for the conclusion of next season, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly noted in earlier September that playing games in the summer worked for the league and it's possible the league revisits that plan if necessary. However, Bettman said Saturday he hopes it doesn't come to that.

The only definitive dates on the NHL calendar following the Stanley Cup Final are for the draft (Oct. 6 and 7) and the start of free agency on Oct. 9.

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Bettman: Predicting next season's start 'nothing more than speculation'
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