The NHL believes all seven of its Canadian teams can start the season playing out of their home arenas.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Thursday the league believes it is clear to play in Canada during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic after discussions over the past 24 hours with provincial health authorities.
“On the basis of our discussions (with provincial health authorities) in the past week, as well as our exchange of correspondence over the last 24 hours, we believe we are aligned and in agreement on the conditions on which each of our Canadian franchises can begin play in their own buildings for the start of the 2020-21 NHL season,” Daly said.
The league has been involved in discussions with the five provincial governments which have NHL teams to try to gain approval to play starting Jan. 13 during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NHL realigned its divisions for the 2021 season so that the North Division — which features all seven Canadian teams — would not have to cross the U.S.-Canada border, which remains closed to non-essential travel until at least Jan. 21.
TSN and Sportsnet have reported Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, sent a note to the league on Wednesday on behalf of the five provinces, asking for increased COVID-19 testing or a return to a scenario in which all teams would be in a secure zone in one city, like the league did in the post-season in Edmonton and Toronto last summer.
Dduring her daily COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday, Hinshaw said both the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames had been given exemptions from the province’s gathering restrictions, in order to hold training sessions.
“We are continuing to be in discussions with respect to the return to play,” Alberta’s top doctor said.
“And that’s something, again, that’s not just Alberta. That’s a discussion that’s happening across the country.”
The league released its schedule on Wednesday, with each team playing 56 games — down from the usual 82.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are scheduled to host the Montreal Canadiens, while the Oilers are slated to face the visiting Vancouver Canucks on Jan. 13 as part of a five-game schedule on opening night.
The Winnipeg Jets open Jan. 14 against the visiting Flames, while the Oilers and Canucks meet again in Edmonton.
The Ottawa Senators start their season Jan. 15 against visiting Toronto, the first of two games in as many days between the Ontario rivals in the nation’s capital.
Baseball-style series are common as the league attempts to reduce the travel. For example, the Canadiens and Senators each are scheduled to play three straight games in Vancouver in January.
© 2020 The Canadian Press