The NHL remains "hopeful" that an extended Canada-U.S. border closure will not "materially affect the resumption of play timelines we are currently contemplating," according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
That comment comes in the wake of Tuesday morning’s announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the border between the countries will remain closed to non-essential travel through June 21.
It’s not immediately clear if NHL players and staff might be granted exemptions that could facilitate travel back to playing cities before then.
The NHL has been hoping to open team facilities for small-group workouts and start progressing through the phases of its return-to-play protocol. However, a large number of players are currently waiting out the COVID-19 pause at their off-season homes — including more than 100 in Europe.
Travel restrictions could provide a barrier to getting NHLers back to their playing cities in hopes of holding three- to four-week training camps. Those restrictions currently include a 14-day period of self-isolation for anyone returning to Canada from abroad.
Time is of the essence as the NHL hopes to conclude its 2019-20 season by the end of September.
The league’s ‘Return To Play Committee’ has been working hard in recent days on trying to finalize the format the season would be resumed under. The committee, composed of NHL executives and players including Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele and John Tavares, is believed to be focused on bringing back 24 teams to play some regular-season games before progressing to a play-in round that determines the 16 playoff qualifiers.
Those games will likely be held in hub cities — with either six teams based in four of them or 12 spread across two, depending on if the travel restrictions will make it feasible to include Canadian-based hubs.
Last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told members of the San Jose Sharks business alliance that cancelling the season is "not something I’m even contemplating."
"I believe that if the right time comes, and the right circumstances, based on all of the options that we’re considering and our ability to execute them, we’ll get this season done," Bettman said. "I don’t want to sound Pollyanna, but cancelling is too easy a solution. That means you stop working hard to do all of the things that we’re doing, and I ultimately believe that there will be an opportunity."
The NHL has been on pause since March 12.