As NHL looks to restart season, just how accommodating should governments be with quarantine rules?


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I fear that what I’m about to confess will jeopardize any affection we have towards one another, but, I have to be honest.

My name is Vassy, and I am a Leafs fan. 

I can almost picture your faces recoiling in horror at this revelation. I know, I know, I’ve heard it all: the centre of the universe attitude, the expensive tickets, the lack of a Stanley Cup in my lifetime. 

It’s all true. But I can’t help it, I love my team.

So, like millions of Canadians, I was just a little bit excited to hear about the prospect of a playoff run when the National Hockey League’s commissioner announced it last week. Of course, the games won’t look like what we’re used to; namely, there won’t be a crowd.  And, if and when hockey comes back, it will do so with a 24-team playoff format.

Toronto is one of three Canadian cities offering to be a hub city if and when the NHL resumes play. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The top four teams in each conference get a bye, but they will play two abbreviated round-robin tournaments to determine their seedings for the playoffs. The remaining eight teams in each conference will compete in a best-of-five play-in series to determine the 16 teams for the playoffs.

So where are the games to be played? It’s a question I bet you’re asking. 

The NHL will decide on two hub cities; one for the Western Conference teams and one for the Eastern Conference ones. 

Three Canadians cities are in the running to be a hub city: Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.

But here’s the catch. For the NHL to choose a Canadian city, it would need either the teams to be exempt from the current travel ban between the U.S. and Canada or that ban would have to end all together. The league also wants an exemption of sorts to the quarantine rules around cross-border travel; right now, if you cross the border into Canada you have to quarantine for 14 days. 

 WATCH: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman explain the return-to-play format

Commissioner Bettman outlined the NHL’s 24-team playoff format, and the draft lottery. 2:11

If players have to self-isolate for 14 days — well, the NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly called that a non-starter and said it would eliminate Canadian cities from contention.

Enter Alberta. 

Premier Jason Kenney is asking the federal government to mirror actions taken south of the border and exempt teams from the border restrictions. The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, later floated the idea of a “cohort quarantine,” which means that teams would basically seal themselves off as a unit versus each player self-isolating. 

B.C.’s premier was a little more cautious about the idea when he spoke to my colleague Chris Hall over the weekend on CBC Radio’s The House.

“The Canucks are in the playoffs. It took a pandemic to get them there, but they’re in the playoffs,” Horgan said. “We’re excited about that, but we’re not going to put other people at risk, and the NHL understands that the federal government understands that.”

Edmonton’s mayor is championing his city in the race, but Don Iveson insists moving ahead is contingent on public health officials giving the green light.

“Dr. Hinshaw, our chief medical officer of health, needs to be satisfied that all of the measures are there to protect the public and players and trainers and hospitality staff who might interact with the teams,” he told me last week in an interview.

“This is an opportunity for provincial and federal governments to work together to get on the same page, to support this quality of life and economic opportunity for our country and for our city.”

WATCH: Mayor Don Iveson discuss the possibility of Edmonton becoming an NHL hub city

Mayor Don Iveson discusses the potential of Edmonton becoming an NHL hub city when the league returns. 5:06

At this point, it doesn’t look like the aforementioned governments are on the same page, not entirely at least. People I speak to in the federal government are not anywhere close to a decision on whether to bend the quarantine rules, though I’m told there have been many conversations between Bettman and government officials in Ottawa. He’s trying hard to convince them, but everyone I spoke to isn’t ready to make a call yet. 

A lot of that has to do with the question of fairness, and by that I mean; what’s good for the goose is supposed to be good for the gander. Should NHL players be treated differently than anyone else crossing the border? Or if public health officials sign off on it, and resources like tests are still available for anyone who needs them, will that assuage those concerns? 

The answer should come sometime soon. The NHL hasn’t put firm dates on anything yet because like everything these days, it depends on COVID-19 and the containment of the virus. But the aim is to start playing this summer, which means a decision about hub cities will have to come before that. 

And no matter the city chosen, no matter if Canada makes the cut; one thing will always remain true…GO LEAFS GO! (don’t hate me).


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