The NHL, the only Canadian division, eliminated its final hurdle on Friday.
However, developments south of the border related to COVID-19 have been much less encouraging.
Manitoba has announced it will allow the Winnipeg Jets to play games at home during the pandemic, joining Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, offering the league’s plan to resume action north of the border this season.
Friday’s move came after the province made a minor change to current public health orders, allowing professional hockey to move on to the capital, Manitoba.
This approval came on the same day that the Dallas Stars closed their facility after six players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. The NHL said the Stars will not open their season until January 19 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets said a number of players did not train “out of extreme caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols.”
Due to border restrictions on non-essential travel and the current 14-day quarantine, Canada’s seven franchises will play against each other in the new Northern Division this season, which begins on Wednesday, instead of moving to the United States. for the first two rounds of the playoffs.
There will be no fans present for games in Canadian NHL arenas, at least to start the program, while players and team staff must follow a number of protocols when on the road – which include hotel and skating restrictions.
“The protocols here are very good,” Toronto Maple Leafs goalkeeper Frederik Andersen said Friday. “Of course, we’re happy to do what we love to do. And I’m grateful for that.”
Players are tested daily for the new coronavirus during training camp. This will continue for at least the first four weeks of the regular season, but there is still an increased risk compared to the well-controlled bubbles the NHL has hired to resume the 2019-20 campaign in Toronto and Edmonton this summer.
Earlier, Joe Thornton said that the team he plays for in Switzerland in the autumn has suspended operations several times due to the virus, but he is happy that the 23rd NHL season – and the first for a Canadian club – is a game.
“It’s exciting,” said the 41-year-old. “I didn’t know if we would play and finally we are here, we are less than a week away.
“It’s been a long off-season for everyone involved – fans and players, coaches and even on the bottom line. So we’re all excited to do this again.”
Ontario Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod announced on Thursday that Senators Leafs and Ottawa can host games in 2021, posting on Twitter: safe our players, staff and communities from the spread of COVID-19. “
The other three provinces have previously given their consent, although Quebec Prime Minister Francois Legault had to reiterate earlier this week that Canadians will be allowed to play in Montreal, despite the fact that his government has set up a race nest from Saturday to Saturday. on 8 February in hopes of reducing the spread 19.
“Canadians have had lengthy public health talks,” Legault said Wednesday. “I think Quebecers want to … watch hockey games.
“It has been done completely safely and they have the means to pay for that security.”
And while NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on Dec. 24 that the league believed it had an agreement in place to host games in Canada, none of the five provinces in question – each to sign – did not provide formal confirmation until 31 December. .
Alberta issued a statement to the Canadian press on New Year’s Eve, saying it had green games for the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers six days earlier, while Manitoba and BC indicated that their jurisdictions were still under discussion.
BC finally gave its blessing on Sunday, Quebec followed suit on Monday, and Ontario did the same on Thursday before Manitoba completed things on Friday.
The federal government has previously started training camps and also dropped the 14-day quarantine rule on “grounds of national interest” in favor of an amended plan for returning players and team personnel.
The Leafs and Canadiens open the 56-game short season Wednesday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena before the Oilers host the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place later that evening. The jets begin their program by receiving the Flames the following night at Bell MTS Place, while Ottawa begins Jan. 15 at the Canadian Tire Center against Toronto.