One of the NHL’s concerns about Ottawa is the hotel space and proximity to the rink to house the teams that would be involved.
No matter what happens with the rest of the National Hockey League regular season and the playoffs, we have probably seen the last of the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Center for the 2019-20 campaign.
Yes, they can be back at the rink or at the Bell Sensplex to host a reduced training camp under the direction of head coach DJ Smith and his staff during the month of June if the NHL is able to resume action in the summer months, but the Senators’ chances of playing one of their last four home games on their schedule in Ottawa seem slim.
Like NHL toys with the idea of bringing each division to four neutral locations following the break that started on March 12 due to COVID-19, it is unlikely that the Canadian Tire Center and the Sensplex in proximity are considered. Yes, everything could change, but one of the concerns of the NHL about Ottawa is the hotel space and the proximity of the ice rink to accommodate the teams that would be involved.
If the NHL really wants to bring players back to empty rinks, they want to put them as close to the arena as possible. Cities like Toronto, Columbus, Buffalo, Vegas, Edmonton and Arizona have all been mentioned as possibilities as they have hotels within walking distance of the ice rinks.
The league is trying to determine what format it will take if it is able to return to action and there are ongoing discussions between Commissioner Gary Bettman, Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly, the 31 team owners and the NHL Players ‘Association. Ideally, they would like to find a safe path to a return to action in early July, after the teams organized a sort of training camp in their hometown.
The league is also considering exhibition matches at neutral venues, but you can expect the governors to hold their biweekly conference call next Monday as they will spend a lot of time discussing the most realistic possibilities of reopening. The self-isolation period that expires Thursday is expected to be extended by a few weeks.
Whatever the scenario proposed by the NHL, it will be temporary and will ultimately be determined by local health authorities. Judging by Premier Doug Ford’s plan to resume operations released on Monday, it certainly does not look like there will be big rallies in Ontario before September, and it has been noted that big sports may need to be played without fans.
Trying to bring players back into the NHL has so many variables. Rtoday the border between Canada and the United States is closed to non-essential travel, while flights from Europe only accept citizens. They should reopen for Senators players Anders Nilsson, Nikita Zaitsev, Marcus Hogberg and Mikkel Boedker to return from Europe and for Brady Tkachuk, Colin White and Ron Hainsey to return from the United States.
And these are just a few of the actors involved. Bobby Ryan is in Idaho, Craig Anderson is in Florida and other players are spread across other locations. Of course, the Senators will likely have to bring some players from their American Hockey League branch back to Belleville, which will create another problem in trying to get people back in Ottawa.
Currently, the Canadian government has put in place rules according to which anyone who has traveled – in some cases even from one province to another – must be isolated for 14 days upon return. It doesn’t look like these rules will be relaxed anytime soon, which adds another layer of complexity if the Senators have to get back together to end their season.
Some members of the Montreal Canadiens – Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault being the latest – have expressed the opinion that they do not have much interest in being locked in a hotel to complete the schedule. If you think money should be a motivator, however, you’re right, and with NHL players sharing “hockey income” they will be hit hard in the portfolio if they don’t start again to play.
This is not the case with all players, of course.
“The vast majority of our players, because they understand the financial impact if they don’t come back, are ready to come back because they know it’s the right thing to do,” said Andy Scott, a Ottawa agent with Octagon Hockey. “And, historically, players have always done what’s best for the game, and it’s best for the game.”
Scott said the NHL players are preparing as best they can.
“Most of the guys are on strict fitness regimes,” said Scott, who added that the Arizona Coyotes have deposited stationary bikes to players still in this area. “There is no excuse for anyone not to be ready. Most guys take this very seriously and maintain their fitness level by anticipating that there will be a season here. “
No one is sure that this is the case, however.