The Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens will be able to play games at their home arenas during the new NHL ice hockey season, after the teams were given the green light by the Ontario and Quebec governments.
The NHL last month confirmed plans to begin a 56-game regular season schedule on January 13. In reaching an agreement on the format of next season, the NHL and Players’ Association (NHLPA) determined that the ongoing closure of the US-Canada border required “realignment”.
The schedule will seek to minimise team travel as much as possible by shifting to exclusively interdivisional play, with each team in the North Division, which will only feature the league’s seven Canadian franchises, to play each other nine or 10 times.
Ontario’s approval yesterday (Thursday) is the latest development from lengthy negotiations between the NHL and the provinces, which have been complicated by regional COVID-19 situations. It means that the Maple Leafs and Senators will be able to play their home games at the Scotiabank Arena (pictured) and Canadian Tire Centre, respectively.
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Minister, said: “In consultation with Ontario’s Chief Medical officer of Health and with support from local medical officers of health in Ottawa and Toronto, I am pleased to share that both of Ontario’s NHL teams, the Ottawa Senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs, will be able to host home games against other Canadian teams in their respective arenas this season.
“This approval was granted after close scrutiny of the rigorous health and safety protocols that will be adopted to keep players, staff and our communities safe from the spread of COVID-19.”
While regulations over fan attendance for games in Ontario have not yet been decided, the Canadiens will play their home games behind closed doors at the Bell Centre. The Quebec government has approved the staging of games as it unveiled new measures that will come into force tomorrow (Saturday) and run through until at least February 8.
Premier François Legault said at a press conference: “The people from the Canadiens have had long talks with public health. I think Quebecers want… to see hockey games. It’s done completely safely, and they have the means to pay for that safety.”
The Vancouver Canucks were earlier given the green light to play home games at Rogers Arena this season, albeit without fans. British Columbia was the second Canadian province to approve NHL games, joining Alberta, home of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
This leaves Manitoba, home of the Winnipeg Jets, as the only NHL province yet to make a decision.