If the NHL fails to approve the plans by the provincial health authorities, there will be no NHL hockey in Canada next season.
The dreams of a fully Canadian division in the NHL next season could be going up in smoke.
The NHL intends to move forward with the NHL’s 2020-21 season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the league may be facing problems with provincial health officials across Canada.
For a while, it seemed that the main obstacle to playing the season in Canada was the closure of the US-Canada border, which would prevent American teams from traveling to Canada to play. The NHL’s proposed solution to the problem was a completely Canadian division, with all teams playing only in the division during the regular season. This solves the border problem, but there are other problems within Canada.
According to a Chris Johnston report from Sportsnet, the NHL has a plan B if they can’t solve these problems: move all seven Canadian teams to the US
The report came just hours after Canucks’ Twitter account tweeted about Rogers Arena being ready to go to the training ground and next season.
Prepared and ready for action. 👀 pic.twitter.com/HvNtxUxt4c
– Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) December 17, 2020
The plan for a fully Canadian division does not depend only on approval by the federal government, but on five separate provincial health officials: BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Each of these provincial health officials has different restrictions in place that complicate NHL plans.
For example, Manitoba currently requires 14 days of self-isolation for all travelers entering the province from East Terrace Bay, Ontario. This restriction would make it almost impossible for the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens to play street games in Winnipeg.
The restriction also applies to residents of western Canada who travel east of Terrace Bay within 14 days of entering Manitoba, so it would affect the Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers also if they were to travel. The added complexity that would increase the season’s schedule is impressive.
All five provinces currently have restrictions on public meetings, which can affect ongoing games. With each team wearing a roster of 20 players per game, four officers on the ice, even more off-ice officers, in addition to training and coaching teams, each NHL game easily exceeds even the most flexible restrictions on encounters of up to 50 people which were previously in force in many provinces, not to mention the stricter restrictions in recent months.
The challenge for the NHL is to come up with security plans robust enough to go through the grouping of all five provinces, allowing them to bypass these restrictions.
The Canadian Public Health Agency is currently coordinating discussions between the NHL and provincial health officials. Although the agency does not have the authority to make decisions for the provinces, spokesman André Gagnon issued the following statement:
“The priority for the Government of Canada is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sporting events in Canada must be carried out in accordance with Canadian measures to mitigate the import and dissemination of COVID-19. NHL teams and other professional sports teams must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports and sporting events. “
There are certainly cities in the United States that would be interested in hosting NHL games. Ottawa Senators reporter Bruce Garrioch suggested that Kansas City, Milwaukee, Austin and Orlando could put pressure on Canadian teams. Kansas City, in particular, frequently appears in NHL expansion negotiations.
The Canucks, for what it’s worth, have connections with some of those cities. The Kansas City Blades were affiliated with the Canucks IHL during their last season in 2000-01, when they were coached by Stan Smyl.
Likewise, Milwaukee admirals were affiliated with the 1988-1993 Canucks IHL, with potential clients like Gino Odjick, Garry Valk and Troy Gamble spending time in Milwaukee on their way to Vancouver.
The reserve plan for Canadian teams to play in the United States is unlikely to be popular with players, who will be forced to leave families in Canada for months on end. Relocating entire families south of the border can cause additional complications, so the NHL’s priority will be its ongoing negotiations with provincial health officials.
At the same time, the idea may find some support among Canadian owners, many of whom are facing the prospect of playing an entire season without fans in his arena. Moving to American cities, where they can host fans at games, can be a tempting prospect. It is not without its own problems, however.
The NHL is not facing problems just in Canada, as some areas of the U.S. also have strict restrictions that can prevent games from being played. The San Jose Sharks, for example, are planning to hold their training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, instead of their domestic rink due to Santa Clara County restrictions.
While trying to play the season in quarantine bubbles, as they did during the Stanley Cup 2020 playoffs, is not possible, the NHL is exploring the possibility of central cities hosting a number of teams, playing a kind of mini-tournament between all teams before moving to another hub.
It is a format that can also be seen in Canada if the NHL reaches an agreement with some provincial health officials, but not with others.