The NHL’s Canadian teams have been told they could be made to play their games in the
United States due to a number of issues with Canadian health authorities. The league had been
looking forward to a 56-game season that would start on January 13 and see all teams play
their home games in their own arenas, however, ESPN claims sources have told them teams
hailing from the North could relocate to the US instead.
The NBA’s Toronto Raptors have settled in Tampa, Florida, where they will host home games
for the 2020/21 season, which kicks off three days before Christmas. It appears the NHL’s
Canadian outfits will be made to follow suit despite the league’s plans to realign its divisions to
facilitate the temporary formation of an all-Canadian division.
According to the aforementioned publication, Canadian provincial health authorities are in
opposition to some of the NHL’s protocols.
“Sources told ESPN that commissioner Gary Bettman has consulted with Dr. Anthony Fauci, as
well as other leading infectious disease experts, over the past few months as the league
formulates its strategy,” the report reads. “The NHL and NHLPA have been meeting daily over
the past two weeks.”
The NHL and NHLPA were keen on having a solid plan in place by the end of this week. That
plan would need approval from the league’s board of governors, and the fact that the proposal
hasn’t sat well with health authorities in Canada is a significant setback. As of Friday, the sides
were still making attempts to put something final together.
The league’s main concern centers on a need to crown a Stanley Cup winner before the Tokyo
Olympics in July of next year, as well as introduce some semblance of a regular schedule by the
time the 2021/22 season hits. Of course, the top online sportsbooks will have lines for the 2020-
21 Stanley Cup whenever things become clearer.
The league’s commissioner has revealed that a bubble situation is a possibility given the
restrictions and safety risks involved in having teams travel to various arenas. The more
movement teams and players make, the more likely it is that individuals contract COVID-19.
“We have a couple of clubs that can’t hold training camp or conduct games even without fans in
their current buildings and facilities,” he said during a video panel discussion hosted by the
World Hockey Forum in Moscow this week. “And we’re going to have to move them somewhere
else to play.
“Right now, we’re focused on whether or not we’re going to play in our buildings and do some
limited traveling or play in a bubble. That’s something we’re working on and getting medical
ESPN also reports having been informed by sources that the San Jose Sharks are working on
contingency plans to have their training camp outside of Scottsdale, Arizona, due to Santa
Clara’s sanctions regarding contact sports. Those sanctions have also forced the NFL’s San
Francisco 49ers to move operations to Arizona.
Players had begun heading back to playing cities in expectation of the NHL season starting on
the proposed January 13 date and training camps kicking starting off after the upcoming
Christmas holidays. The NHL and NHLPA agreed to allow the seven teams who failed to qualify
for 2020’s extended playoffs special dispensation for additional training due to not having played
since the pandemic forced doors shut back in March. It’s since been suggested that those
teams will only have 1-3 days of additional practice time if any at all.
The league is willing to move to a bubble or hub city arrangement if it can’t go ahead with plans
to have teams back in their respective arenas. That decision is contingent on the result of the
league’s consultation with medical experts such as Dr. Fauci.
The Raptors, who have taken their act to Florida as mentioned above, likely had little difficulty
having already gone into the bubble for the close of the regular NBA season and the playoffs.
They were actually the first ones in there despite being the only team not based in the U.S. The
adjustment hasn’t been all that bad as a result, but the NHL’s challenge is a different one given
there are seven teams who would need to take up a new temporary residence as opposed to
the NBA’s one.
An all-Canadian division appeared to be the answer as it would have significantly lessened
cross-border movement but the Canadian authorities aren’t very high on teams traveling around
the country either and the concerns are indeed legitimate. Fans will hope for a quick resolution
to this particular quandary and the league will be hoping for the same as it would very much like
to avoid a clash with the July Olympics.