The NHL could find a home in Metro Vancouver if the league decides to resume the 2019-20 season.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says discussions are taking place with her counterparts at the World Health Organization around ways professional sports can be played amid the COVID-19 crisis and did not rule out having Metro Vancouver host NHL games.
“We have been looking at how you can have this sort of sporting event safely around the world,” Henry said.
“There are ways you can do it safely and I think it is an interesting idea.”
Dr. Henry, a self-described hockey fan, says there are ways to ensure NHL games can be played within guidelines to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
One strategy is to have multiple NHL teams based in the same city in order to limit travel.
A key challenge the NHL is grappling with is how to ensure athletes stay healthy and can move from hotels to arenas to play games. The league is also trying to figure out how to keep the social circles close enough while also including trainers, broadcasters, security, catering and operations teams for the arena.
The NHL postponed the season on March 12.
“Hockey is one we could certainly look at. There would be parameters we have talked about. I could not see there being an in-ice audience but we could broadcast the games,” Henry said.
“There are ways players could physically distance. Players wear facemasks so there are ways they are protected when they are on the ice. These are types of things we need to think about and how we could do them this summer.”
All NHL teams had between 11 and 14 regular-season games remaining when play was halted. The format to be used when and if action resumes remains uncertain.
Metro Vancouver may be well-suited to hosting NHL games during the COVID-19 crisis as it is home to a large number of hotels and a number of rinks where professional hockey can be played. Possible sites for games include Rogers Arena, UBC’s Thunderbird Arena, the Pacific Coliseum, the Langley Events Centre and the Abbotsford Centre.
The league would need time to get players back into game shape and under current restrictions, all athletes travelling to Canada from outside the country would have to isolate for 14 days.
“I think it’s a question we’ll have to look into,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday.
“Certainly at a strict minimum, anyone who arrives from another country will have to follow all the rules of quarantine in an extremely strict manner, but we’re not there yet in our discussions with the NHL.”
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Edmonton and Toronto were being looked at as possible “hockey pod” cities that could host the remainder of the NHL season during the summer months. Games would be played in air-conditioned arenas without fans.
A person familiar with discussions told The Associated Press that the most aggressive timetable would have players returning to their home rinks as early as May 15, followed by a training camp and possible exhibition games in June.
The league and NHL Players’ Association have formed a joint committee to determine a path forward that could get games back on the ice sometime in July without fans in attendance.
The committee said in a statement last week that they “have not made any decisions or set a timeline for possible return to play scenarios,” but remained hopeful that players could return to their teams for “small group activities” by mid-to-late May.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently that no decisions have been made and noted that government and medical officials will ultimately make the call on when sports can return.
— With files from the Canadian PressView link »