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Gary Bettman says league has discussed 4-arena plan, draft before season ends

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The NHL says no to neutral-site games but eyes a July return or sooner (1:32)

Greg Wyshynski discusses the NHL no longer considering neutral-site games for the season's return, with the league eyeing a July return, if not sooner, should safety precautions allow. (1:32)

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed a potential four-arena plan for a season restart, a draft held before the season is completed and fans returning to games during a wide-ranging interview with Sportsnet on Wednesday.

"Anything we're considering doing starts with health and well-being, whether it's the players or other personnel or fans or the community at large. Everybody is going through a tough time," Bettman told Ron MacLean on "In Conversation." "We're hopeful that by doing the right things in the short term that we're able to come back and hopefully complete this season on some basis that is fair and has integrity."

Among the topics addressed by Bettman:

• Bettman confirmed that the NHL is looking at a four-city plan to restart the 2019-20 season, which was paused on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said these NHL arenas, which "won't necessarily be divisionally based," can be anywhere that "isn't a hot spot" and has what the league requires in terms of both the arena and the practice facilities.

The plan would be to play three games per day.

Sources have told ESPN that the home rinks of the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild are early favorites for those sites. Bettman said the decisions on sites "presumes there wouldn't be fans in the building," rather than making decisions based on capacity.

• When asked about fans returning to NHL arenas and whether that's tied to the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, Bettman said that is something the "medical people and the government leaders" will tell the league.

"I've seen a lot of polling on that. I think there'll be some social distancing for a while. I think there'll be masks, Purell, lots of things," he said.

• As reported by ESPN earlier Wednesday, the NHL is no longer looking into playing at neutral-site venues such as on college campuses or smaller arenas, due to a lack of facilities for players, staff and broadcast partners.

• Bettman said the league has discussed the possibility of a June NHL draft with its general managers, potentially holding the event before the completion of the season.

"It was a trial balloon. No decision has been made," he said. "But as I said when we were getting feedback, we don't live in a world of perfect anymore. We're going to have to make adjustments. Ideally from our standpoint would be if we can complete the regular season, even if it's on a centralized basis, and then go into the playoffs that we normally play."

Bettman added that mechanisms could be put in place to, for example, prevent the same team from winning the draft lottery and the Stanley Cup if the playoffs are expanded.

• Bettman said that if the playoffs are canceled, the league could owe its television partners "credits against next season" because the bulk of the TV revenue is from the postseason. When it comes to the revenue gap between players and owners this season, Bettman said the system will work it out.

"I don't want to get into the specific numbers. The fact is that we have a system that made the game healthy, that has paid the players more than before the system was in place and has made our game more competitive than it's ever been," he said. "The system works, in good times and in difficult times."

• Bettman said he has been in contact with NBA commissioner Adam Silver, but the NHL's plan to restart its season is in no way tied to anything the NBA is planning, especially given that the preparation for hockey players ahead of a season restart is very different than that of NBA players.

"We don't want the players playing games that matter until they're in game shape," Bettman said. "The fact is that none of our guys have been on skates, and we have to make sure that they're in game-ready condition."

Bettman reiterated that players will need to have a training camp before returning to games.