National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday the league is looking at eight or nine locations where about 12 teams could play in plans to restart the 2019-20 season.
The news comes amid reports the NHL is looking to finalize a two-hub system with 12 clubs at each site, with Las Vegas and Edmonton said to be among cities under consideration.
The 31-team NHL shut down 12 March due to the coronavirus pandemic with about 3 1/2 weeks remaining in the regular season ahead of a planned two-month playoff run.
Bettman gave a digital interview at virtual sports business conference Leaders Week, saying he had no timetable for a return to competition according to an NHL website posting.
"I don't think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now," Bettman said. "We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we're in a position to execute any or all of those options.
"There's still a great deal of uncertainty."
There are major border crossing and quarantine issues for the NHL to contend with because 17% of league players are outside North America and facing two weeks of isolation when they return to the United States, with US and Canadian border issues also a factor.
Having 12 teams at each site, likely split between Eastern and Western conference venues, would eliminate bottom clubs in each but allow more than the usual eight playoff teams per conference.
Rinks in each hub would need to host multiple games a day without spectators, something most NHL arenas could do with multiple locker rooms that could be sanitized as teams enter and leave.
Sufficient hotel space and testing capacity for the deadly virus that wouldn't come at the expense of medical workers would also be crucial to any comeback scenario.
"We certainly can't be jumping the line in front of medical needs," said Bettman.
A Return to Play Committee, which includes representatives of the NHL Players Association, still faces many questions, Bettman said.
"Do we complete the regular season when we're given the opportunity?" Bettman asked. "Do we do an abbreviated regular season... do we go right to the playoffs?... do we do it in a centralized location or locations?
"I believe that all of the major sports in North America are going through this same exercise, and while the medical and health issues are probably to some extent the same for all of us, the logistics of what we do and how we do it may be a little different depending on the sport.
"I think the major sports and their franchises will get through this and will come back as strong as ever. It's just a question of time."
Bettman says the NHL could wait as late as December before starting a 2020-21 campaign and has said he hasn't considered not awarding a Stanley Cup in 2020.
"We'd like to award the Stanley Cup," Bettman said. "And our fans are telling us overwhelmingly that's what they'd like us to do, because people have an emotional investment in this season already."
Bettman said he thinks fans will return as allowed by medical breakthroughs, although sanitizers, masks and reduced seating configurations could be among the things spectators would have to tolerate.
"Everything we do is going to be governed by the doctors, the medical people and by governments at all levels," Bettman said.
"A lot of the issues we're confronting ultimately are going to be resolved for us by other people... and that's why we have to be doing a lot of contingency planning."