NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly says that in a perfect world, the league’s return-to-play plan would feature one hub city on either side of the U.S.-Canada border. But in today’s landscape amid the COVID-19 pandemic, safety will ultimately be the biggest deciding factor in which two cities will host NHL games this summer/fall.
“Ultimately, we want to pick the safest cities — and ‘safest’ goes to what the condition of the virus is in the city and whether the city has it under control and the health facilities that are available,” Daly said Wednesday during an appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Lead Off, also pointing to the city’s infrastructure as a primary consideration that will impact the safety of all involved.
“Arena setup, and hotels around the arena, and secure transportation to and from the hotels to the arena — what does that look like? And is that a place where we can keep the players and the club staff and league staff all safe in a bubble-type environment,” he said.
On Tuesday, commissioner Gary Bettman outlined the NHL’s extensive return-to-play plan — including a 24-team tournament format and draft lottery details — and listed the 10 cities currently under consideration to host games: seven in the United States (Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh) and three in Canada (Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver).
Daly said Wednesday that while he wants to “make sure that our Canadian cities and our Canadian clubs are well-represented,” Canada’s current federally-mandated 14-day quarantine period for all incoming travellers presents a significant challenge and could hinder the league’s ability to play games north of the border when the league resumes.
“We do have some challenges in Canada currently with respect to the strict mandatory 14-day quarantine that is imposed by the federal government. We’re having discussions … consistent with the restriction and consistent with the quarantine, whether that can be served in a way that’s a little more non-traditional — kind of in a bubble environment as opposed to strictly in somebody’s hotel room or the likes.”
Daly said those discussions are “ongoing.”
“If we can’t agree on how that gets interpreted or should get interpreted, it will be difficult for us to select a Canadian city because the 14-day quarantine for the teams travelling in would be kind of a non-starter to be able to play in 2020,” he said.
A decision on which two hub cities will be selected is expected to come in about three to four weeks.
During his Lead Off appearance, Daly also addressed widespread concerns around testing during the tournament — including when tests will likely be administered and how often — and said he believes that one positive test “doesn’t necessarily have to shut down the tournament or cause a full-team quarantine.”
“Our best medical advice, at this point in time — although there are a lot of uncertainties — is depending on the circumstance, it doesn’t necessarily have to shut down the tournament or cause a full-team quarantine,” he said.
“We have to avoid being in the situation where there are multiple positives or there’s a mini outbreak. I think that clearly would put the tournament in danger. But we’re proceeding on the assumption that one single positive test — particularly with all the other precautions we’ve built around the environment in which this tournament will be played — won’t be the end of the tournament.”
In Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play protocol, players would be tested 48 hours before entering league facilities for small-group training sessions and then twice weekly going forward. Players would also follow strict guidelines to monitor their own symptoms throughout Phase 2, in addition to a number of other safety guidelines outlined here.
Phase 3 (training camp) would see “much more frequent” testing, with daily testing anticipated for Phase 4 (hub-city tournament play) for all players and staff.
“That testing, the way we envision it working, would be done every night before a player goes back to his room. The results would be analyzed before the player reports to the rink the next morning,” explained Daly. “Obviously, if there’s a positive test, the player would be instructed to stay in his hotel room and we’d get him medical care.”