In the midst of the NHL’s suspended season and the global coronavirus pandemic, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took time to speak with The Hockey News’ owner and publisher W. Graeme Roustan about addressing employee concerns, communicating with other sports leagues throughout the world and what comes next for the NHL.
Graeme Roustan: Mr. Bettman, thank you for joining The Hockey News and Sports Illustrated. We’re in the middle of a global crisis and, as you know, most of the hockey world looks to the NHL for guidance and follows in lockstep with what the NHL does. I know you’re also a commissioner and CEO of your own organization. You’ve got hundreds of people that work for the NHL. What have you done at the NHL level to address your employees’ concerns regarding the current situation?
GB: Well, whether it’s the league office personnel or the personnel at the clubs, we want to make sure that everybody stays safe and is healthy, and in that regard, we’ve been providing as much information as is available so that people can be informed and make good decisions. We, and I believe most if not all of our clubs, have everybody working remotely. Our office has been closed since the end of last week, but people are working from home and we’re trying to adapt and adjust to all of the developments, giving advice, particularly to the players who were all brought home to their home markets and urged to self-isolate because we want to make sure that, to the extent possible, not only do we keep NHL people from getting infected, to the extent that’s possible, but to also not participate in spreading to the extent we can, as well.
GR: I know your primary responsibility is the NHL and NHL family, but you also must realize that the rest of the hockey world is looking at the NHL for leadership in this situation. Have you had any communication with other leagues outside of the NHL about this situation?
GB: We’ve been in communication with not just hockey leagues, but other leagues. We’ve been in contact with businesses. Everybody is doing the same thing, and that’s trying to be informed to the extent possible and to keep our people safe and healthy to the extent that’s possible. This is more than a hockey issue, more than a sports issue, this is a worldwide issue and everybody, I believe, is doing everything within their power to do what is the prudent and sensible thing under the circumstances.
GR: It’s a time when people are looking for leadership from political figures, but they’re also looking at leadership from business leaders and because many people are involved with or follow sports, they look for leadership from commissioners and professional athletes. Do you find in addition to the burden you carry every day to run a league, do you feel additional burden on the NHL outside of the game of hockey to provide leadership?
GB: I’m not sure I would say it’s a burden as much as it is a responsibility. That’s why we tried to be leaders in providing information and doing the right things. Listen, we shut down last Thursday before we even had a positive test. We did it because we believed it was inevitable that one of our players or other personnel would test positive and we weren’t going to wait for that to happen. But at the end of the day, this isn’t about who can be the biggest leader, who can grandstand the most. This is making sure that people are being given good information so they can make good decisions.
GR: What would you like to say about the first NHL player testing positive (for COVID-19)?
GB: We hope his recovery is swift and that he self isolates so that we’re not participating in spreading the pandemic. It’s not a surprise. Everybody watching the news knows how widespread this is and it’s going to be, which is why, again, to repeat myself, people need to make good decisions. The fewer people you come in contact with, the less likely you’re going to spread it if you’re contagious, or the less likely you’re going to get it, if you’re not.
GR: With the CDC making their recommendations, is that one of the guiding factors that you’re using to contemplate the future of hockey?
GB: We are absorbing all of the information that’s out there. We take it seriously, as I said. In terms of where we go from here, we’re modeling all sorts of options and everything is on the table. But we’re going to have to be flexible and react to things that are beyond our control.
Parts of this Q&A has been edited for clarity.