LAS VEGAS — The 2022 NHL Draft could be moved out of Montreal if COVID-19 attendance limits in Quebec are not lifted prior to the event in July, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday.
“If, in fact, the current restrictions remain in place, not only can’t we have fans, I don’t think we can have all the NHL and club personnel we need to conduct the draft,” Commissioner Bettman said at 2022 Honda NHL All Star Weekend. “And if the restrictions are still in place, we’re going to have to consider doing something else with the draft other than conducting it in Montreal. But hopefully, the restrictions and COVID impact will be eased by then.”
The Commissioner said the NHL would consider permitting its seven Canada-based teams — the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets — to move home games if attendance restrictions remain in place in Canada.
“Some of our teams are not allowed to have people in the building,” Commissioner Bettman said. “Some are allowed to have 50 percent. Food and drink is an issue for patrons, or actually fans who are going to the game. … The impact is devastating to the clubs that play in Canada, certainly from an economic standpoint and even from a competitive standpoint because they’re not getting the home crowds when they play their American club colleagues that those clubs get at home.”
The 2022 draft is scheduled for July 7-8. The Canadiens are limited to 500 spectators at the Bell Center for their games scheduled through Feb. 13 because of public health restrictions. Commissioner Bettman said the NHL has had no discussions with health officials about the draft.
“We know the Canadiens have been in talks, because it has been extraordinarily painful to see them play in an empty building, particularly when, as I understand, people are going to restaurants and bars,” the Commissioner said. “But I’m not going to argue and protest against what the governmental authorities have determined they think they need to do.
“We haven’t had direct conversations. When we get to a point in time where we think we have to make a decision, we’ll see what the state of the world is. Hopefully restrictions will get lifted sooner rather than later.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said it might be necessary to hold the draft virtually for a third straight year, but Commissioner Bettman said holding it at another venue that does not have attendance restrictions is a possibility.
The Commissioner said he would speak with NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer to determine how much time and planning would be needed to move the draft to another city.
“It’s not something you can do in a couple of weeks if you’re going to have fans in attendance,” Commissioner Bettman said. “We think the draft is an important event and we’re hopeful we can conduct it as we planned to in Montreal.”
Commissioner Bettman said “a number of the Canadian clubs” have asked about playing home games elsewhere because of the revenue they are losing from playing in front of limited crowds.
“That’s how troublesome and devastating it is for the clubs,” he said. “And it’s not something that anybody wants to do, and it’s not something we’re actively encouraging. But it’s something, if this continues much longer, we may have to let them consider.”
Commissioner Bettman said it is too early to discuss what the alternate sites may be.
“You’re two steps ahead of something that’s theoretical, but they have raised the question,” he said.