Stricter Canadian rules, protocols complicate the NHL’s penetration of the pandemic as matches return

Sixteen months after choosing Canada as the safest place to complete its season, the NHL now faces a series of obstacles north of the border that complicate its attempt to tackle the pandemic again.

The league postponed nine more games Tuesday – all in Canada – and cited participation restrictions in Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary. It also moved a Jan. 12 game in Montreal between the Bruins and Canadiens to Boston.

With 80 games now postponed this season, the NHL hopes to move the games in Canada to later in the season, “where such restrictions can be eased or lifted.” More than other leagues, the NHL is heavily dependent on ticket sales revenue.

Attendance limits are only part of the NHL’s Canada problem.

The NFL and NBA can quickly move to adopt shorter isolation periods for those testing positive for coronavirus in accordance with new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the two leagues may also consider not testing asymptomatic, vaccinated players.

The NHL, with seven teams north of the border, must balance stricter COVID-19 rules set by Canadian federal and provincial authorities.

“We’ve always had the issue of different rules in different jurisdictions, so this is not a new challenge,” Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday, hours before the game resumed after a lengthy vacation. “[We are] we navigate as best we can in uneven water. “

The CDC recommendation to reduce the quarantine period from 10 to five days led to an NHL review of its virus protocols. But there is little evidence that Canada is ready to move like the United States toward looser rules as the provinces crack down on audience sizes and impose further restrictions.

“It’s not in the consciousness of the state or the people, and especially not in the consciousness of health professionals,” said Professor Gilles LeVasseur of the University of Ottawa, who specializes in US-Canada relations. “Right now it’s more, ‘Let’s protect, let’s secure and let’s shut in and let’s make another incarceration.’ part of who we are and let’s live with it. “

This road in the United States, even among other sports leagues, causes some frustration among hockey players who would like to see the NHL slacken on some protocols, especially by reducing mandatory absence from 10 days for those with COVID-19 symptoms.

“It seems like it’s always Canada that’s the reason a lot of things are not happening, so I do not know if we’ll be able to do that,” Tampa Bay Lightning striker and NHL Players’ Association Representative Alex said Killorn. “But it seems reasonable that we would do it and implement it as soon as possible.”

Teammate Steven Stamkos said it was a fine line, while acknowledging that the discussion about testing less is taking place around the NHL locker rooms. Veterans director Lou Lamoriello said the league and union are doing the best they can without being able to control Canadian federal and provincial rules.

“Unless we were playing in Canada and we did not have teams in Canada, you could consider [not testing asymptomatic vaccinated players], and it certainly would be [considered]”The New York Islanders’ general manager said over the weekend.” But with the guidelines and rules in Canada, that’s impossible to happen. We would not be able to play games without the test required to play in Canada. “

Lamoriellos Islanders had Wednesday’s home game against Detroit moved for virus-related reasons before the league went on to the Canadian games.

The American Hockey League, which has 26 teams in the United States and five in Canada, is struggling with the same issues. The AHL has so far postponed 61 games and tries to play as many as possible without extensive disruption.

AHL President and CEO Scott Howson said it is not possible to mix the schedule for teams in Quebec and Manitoba in the middle of the season, despite the possibility of games in empty arenas.

“We would not consider a situation where we would start putting these teams on track and adjusting the schedule,” Howson told The AP by phone Tuesday. “They’re going to play their schedule and if they have to play a few games with 0% [capacity] that’s what they have to do. “

Having teams in Canada comes with a realization that it is harder for them to avoid prolonged absences.

“You’re always subject to what the Canadian government wants to do, and you respect that, and our Canadian team knows that,” Howson said.

One option is to have different test and insulation requirements for the United States and Canada.

“There are arguments on both sides,” Howson said. “You want equal terms, but for us, the 26 teams that could have a less restrictive system, why should they be punished?”

The NHL is testing players, coaches and staff daily until Jan. 7 as part of improved virus protocols, which include a return to mask wearing and road holding restrictions. Taxi teams are back until the All-Star break to try to keep the season going.

As for Canada, which follows the U.S. strategy of living with the virus, LeVasseur does not expect that shift for at least two more weeks, while health officials monitor the number of cases and hospitalizations.

“If nothing turns out to be a disaster in the hospitals, then you want the other mentality,” he said. “But until we reach January 15, nothing will open for that mentality. It will be more closed, secure, confinement and restrictions. That is the pattern we are going to see.”

The NHL returns to combat action Tuesday night with three competitions, all located in the United States

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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