National Post (National Edition)
Home sweet home for Canadian NHL teams
The NHL has received an early Christmas gift from the five Canadian provinces that house their teams.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed in an email to Postmedia on Christmas Eve that the league has an agreement in place with British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec to allow all seven teams north of the border to play in their home rinks when the new season starts on Jan. 13.
While there was concern because Ontario was pushing back against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — and British Columbia hadn't been willing to give the go-ahead to the Vancouver Canucks — the five provinces told the league that if they made small changes to their COVID-19 test procedures, then the teams would be free to play in their own rinks.
This means the Maple Leafs can drop the puck as scheduled at Scotiabank Arena against the Montreal Canadiens on opening night, while the Canucks will face the Edmonton Oilers.
The five health ministers in the provinces agreed to the deal, and as part of the arrangement, the seven NHL teams will be involved in public service announcements that will help raise awareness about preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Yes, we believe we have received confirmation of their approval,” Daly said in an email on Thursday afternoon.
In a letter sent Wednesday (and obtained by TSN) to the league by Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, she noted the five provinces supported the NHL's return-to-play plan, but wanted the head office to agree to some changes. The league had no issue with the changes required.
The league agreed to further testing of staff, players and family members when a team returns from a road trip. Hinshaw wrote the chief medical health officers in the five provinces feel that, with these measures in place, the league can make a safe return with teams playing at home.
If the NHL didn't agree to the changes, then the provinces wanted the league to move the seven Canadian teams into a bubble similar to the one used in the summer to complete the 201920 season. The players were against the bubble concept.
The possibility of moving all seven teams to the United States was on the table, but that was unlikely because Edmonton would likely have welcomed the seven teams with open arms.
Of course, this is good news for all of the Canadian teams because they were hopeful they would get the go-ahead to play in their own buildings. Places like Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and Bell MTS Centre in Winnipeg will be busy, but it's better than some of the alternatives on the table.
Time was of the essence, with the NHL announcing its schedule on Wednesday. The expectation was that, if everybody didn't sign off then, the NHL had different scenarios ready.
There was real concern about the Leafs and Senators being allowed to play at home with Ontario entering a 28-day lockdown starting Saturday. However, local health officials in both cities support the plan the league has in place, and Ontario sports minister Lisa MacLeod was also supportive.
Indications are that B.C. isn't thrilled with the idea of going ahead with this plan, but officials there didn't want to be an outlier, either. The provinces felt they all had to be in it together to make the plan work and didn't want to have one jurisdiction out on an island while the rest agreed with the safety protocols put in place by the league.
While it won't mean more revenue for the seven Canadians teams, it isn't going to result in less, either.
The seven NHL teams are all working on deals to sell advertising on players' helmets, but they're also hoping to get the money they normally receive from rink board ad sales.
The NHL had also been asked by the provinces to limit travel in the first two months of the season.
League officials don't believe they'll have to make any changes to the schedule that was released on Wednesday afternoon, but it will be studied over the course of the next few days.
The good news is, the NHL believes it has the framework of a deal in place, and is ready to move forward.