Canadian teams expect easing of quarantine policy as they vie for NHL hubs

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EDMONTON — The three Canadian teams vying to become hub cities are expecting news on Friday that the federal government’s quarantine restrictions have been loosened.

The chances of Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto being chosen as one of the National Hockey League’s two hub cities hinge on the federal government’s all but promised elimination — or at least massaging — of its 14-day quarantine policy for anyone entering Canada’s borders.

The Canucks, Oilers and Maple Leafs are expecting tangible news on that front by week’s end. Though they were told the same thing a week ago, and all was quiet in Ottawa.

Even if the federal government does not entirely lift its 14-day quarantine for players and coaches arriving in Canada, sources say that it is considering “extending the quarantine area” to include both the team employee’s home and the arena. That way incoming players can at least practise while serving out their quarantine, arriving a few days before training camps open on July 10 and completing their isolation well before camp ends.

Also, should a Canadian city serve as an NHL hub, teams coming in from the United States to participate in the playoffs could “quarantine” inside the NHL bubble that will be created between the team hotel, the practice rink and the NHL arena.

Teams expected a decision from the federal government late last week, but as of Thursday, no word had come down.

Three levels of government have to be on board in order for any city to be a serious contender as a hub city, and at least in British Columbia and Alberta, both the municipal and provincial governments have been demonstrably supportive. Still, the lack of clarity on the 14-day quarantine have most, if not all, seven Canadian-based clubs exploring the possibility of holding their training camps in the U.S.

The NHL recently reached out to at least one of the teams, the Oilers, with further questions regarding testing, costs and process. That was seen as a sign that Edmonton is still in the running.

If the decision on who will host playoff games is to be based on safety and the local COVID-19 landscape, as commissioner Gary Bettman said recently, Edmonton and Vancouver would each have an excellent chance of being chosen. No city in the running to be a hub has fewer cases of COVID-19 than Edmonton, while Vancouver grades out exceptionally low for a city of its size.

Ontario has far worse COVID-19 case numbers, though Toronto would work because it is the NHL’s premier media centre. However, the extent that media will be able to participate in the five-round playoffs is still unknown. The NHL has not yet decided whether reporters will be inside the arenas, whether they’ll be incorporated inside the bubble or whether the playoffs will be largely covered using Zoom calls and video interviews.

In the U.S., Homeland Security issued a May 22 directive that exempted most professional athletes, “including their professional staff, team and league leadership, spouse, and dependents,” from any restrictions upon entering the country.

Should Canada not lift the 14-day quarantine, or at least extend the quarantine to include arenas, it is believed that the NHL will simply choose two American cities in which to play its playoff games.

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