Senators' Melnyk hoping for 6,000 fans at games during pandemic

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk stands near the ice of the Canadian Tire Centre. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

OTTAWA -- The owner of the Ottawa Senators says he has a plan to allow 6,000 fans to attend home games during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eugene Melnyk said in a social media post Tuesday that his "robust public safety plan" includes "health protocols ranging from proper physical distancing, rapid testing and mask-wearing at all times" inside the Canadian Tire Centre.

Melnyk's plan would see about one-third of the arena's seats used.

Melynk has since deleted the Twitter post, though a reference to his plan, with a link to a recent newspaper article detailing the proposal, remains on his website.

The NHL season opens Wednesday night with all seven Canadian teams in one division and only playing each other, avoiding cross-border travel.

None of the seven Canadian teams will have any fans inside arenas to start the season.

Asked about Melnyk's proposal, Canada's deputy public health officer Howard Njoo said it falls outside federal jurisdiction now that Canadian teams will not be crossing the border.

"I would certainly defer to local public health authorities," he said.

Ottawa Public Health said in an email to The Canadian Press that the NHL return-to-play plan it reviewed did not include plans for fans to attend games at the Canadian Tire Centre.

Currently in Ontario, indoor organized public events and social gatherings are not allowed except with members of the same household. A stay-at-home order also goes into effect Thursday.

The NHL expects three American teams -- the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes -- to begin the season with a limited number of fans in their respective arenas.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins are other potential candidates, while the Tampa Bay Lightning have the OK from local authorities, but announced over the weekend they'll play in front of an empty building for the foreseeable future.

The league relies on fans attending games for roughly 50 per cent of its traditional revenue. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday the league expects to suffer billion-dollar losses this year.

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