Uncertainty over Canadian teams the biggest obstacle to NHL return


Since the days of the 21-team NHL, the path to the Stanley Cup final has not been so clear for a Canadian team.
Anyone who steps out of the Group of Seven under the proposed rules for a revamped 2020-21 season will waltz straight into the Final Four.

Can you imagine the buzz?

Four of the Canucks, Flames, Oilers, Jets, Senators, Leafs and Canadiens would be promised a spot in the Stanley Cup tournament, paving the way for top three of seven Canadians and a guaranteed representative with games to play again. 27 other NHL teams are already at home.

Of course, being an age defined by uncertainty and impermanence, there is only one catch.

And that’s a pretty big one.

Even as the NHL and its players came to an agreement in principle on the protocols and rules governing a radically overhauled season Friday night, health officials in Canada had yet to approve the plan.

In fact, a call was scheduled for Saturday with the provinces to continue these discussions. So far they haven’t gone smoothly, which is why the NHL has been forced to at least consider the idea of ​​moving its seven Canadian teams to the United States for the season, as Sportsnet has said. first reported this week.

But that’s not a path anyone with a vested interest in these discussions really wants to take.

The league is working to create an all-Canadian division that includes 56 tag team games played entirely in the Group of Seven. This would eliminate the need to cross the federal border and observe quarantines.

However, five provinces need to approve the protocols governing the game and government officials have objected to seven teams crisscrossing the country for the games. The NHL’s plan calls for players to be tested at least every other day – it could potentially be tested every day – while essentially creating little bubbles around each team with as little outside contact as possible.

Charter planes would be used for all travel, and health standards in hotels and restaurants on the road would be strictly controlled. The players would also be confined to the hotel and the rink. The league must do all it can to allay concerns about how it could impact the risk to public health at a time when COVID-19 cases increase.

Where it gets really interesting is that the NHL is aiming for a start of training camps on January 3 and a puck drop on January 13 in the regular season. It’s a little over three weeks away. Unless the provincial governments change their mind quickly, discussions with the NHL will quickly start to push against these dates.

Everyone flies by the seat of their pants to some extent here – essentially a necessity in the midst of a pandemic.

For example, the San Jose Sharks will be hosting a training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. Due to health restrictions in Santa Clara County, but it is not yet clear how long they will stay there and what impact it will have. exactly on their play schedule.

Decisions will be postponed until the last second possible to ensure that as much information as possible is available when they are made.

If this Canadian division fails to secure the necessary government support, the NHL and NHLPA will have to quickly agree on another path forward. The most obvious alternatives are a hub installation in Edmonton or the relocation of all teams to the United States.

However, it’s entirely possible that the league will wait past the opening of training camps before pivoting in another direction. There is a deep desire to try and make this work for Canadian teams in their own markets.

This helps explain why not everything is going in a predictable sequential order at the moment. Friday night’s interim NHL / NHLPA deal was important as it marked the end of several weeks of back-and-forth over minute details – the creation of four- to six-man taxi squads, altered formulas for performance bonuses and other thresholds, voluntary withdrawal wording for any payer wishing not to play, etc.

The question of Canada is the most important of all.

We now know that there is going to be a season and it is a season that offers incredible possibilities, especially for the fans of the country who claim the sport. But it might not be allowed to go as planned.

After a year like this, what a shame it would be.

Here’s a look at the realigned divisions proposed in the NHL / NHLPA Interim Agreement:

• Calgary, Edmonton, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg.

• Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Islanders de New York, Rangers de New York, Philadelphie, Pittsburgh, Washington.

• Caroline, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Detroit, Floride, Nashville, Tampa.

• Anaheim, Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles, Minnesota, San Jose, St. Louis, Vegas.


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