At least five of Canada’s NHL teams have talked with their provincial government about fans returning to their buildings before the current season ends, but one infectious disease expert thinks it makes more sense to wait until the fall.
The Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets all say they have explored the possibility of putting some fans back in the stands. Canadian teams have played in empty buildings since March 12, 2020, due to concerns about COVID-19.
“We have had preliminary conversations with local authorities about a plan to host some fans at Rogers Arena this year, however nothing is imminent,” said a statement from Canucks Sports and Entertainment. “Any plans to welcome fans back this year will be with the approval and guidance of public health officials. We expect discussions to continue in the near future.”
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician for St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont., pointed to rising COVID-19 cases in several provinces.
“I mean Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver are all not in great places,” he said. “There is case growth in every single one of these cities. It’s hard to justify putting a bunch of people in a single place.”
Chagla said October may be a better time for fans to return as more people will have been vaccinated.
“I think you’re getting closer to normal by the fall,” he said.
“It might not be like full 100 per cent but you probably could get half capacity, so that’s a good thing.”
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Edmonton served as one of the NHL’s two playoff hub cities. Rogers Place was empty when it hosted the Stanley Cup final and the IIHF World Junior Championships.
“We believe we can host fans in Rogers Place and do it as safely as any venue in the world, based on our track record and expertise,” Tim Shipton, senior vice-president of communications and government relations with the Oilers Entertainment Group, said in an email. “We will only move forward with the plan, in conjunction with Alberta Health, as they ultimately need to sign off on the plan.”
A spokesman for the Flames said the team is also talking with the provincial government.
Rob Wozny, the Winnipeg Jet’s vice-president of communications, said the team has ongoing discussions with the province.
“We have shared we have the ability, experience, and resources to open the arena … when it is safe to do so, but no timeline has been discussed,” he said in an email.
A spokesman for the Quebec government said talks have been held with the Canadiens.
A Toronto Maple Leafs spokesman deferred any questions about fans returning to the provincial government.
Dakota Brasier, press secretary to the minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, said “the province will continue to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, other health experts and local public health to determine when and if it is safe for measures to be lifted.”
Chagla said even if fans are allowed back in buildings before the season ends May 8, the numbers will be limited because of social distancing concerns.
“You’re probably looking at maybe 2,000 maximum,” he said. “It’s how much can you get reasonable distancing. As much as we say two metres, it probably needs to be a whole lot more than that considering all the interfaces between people.”
Most American teams hosting fans
In the U.S., 18 of the 24 American-based teams have already welcomed a limited number of fans or plan to allow them this month. Numbers have ranged from three per cent to 30 per cent of capacity.
David Legg, a professor of sports management at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the return of a limited number of fans presents a whole series of challenges for teams.
Clubs will face questions about safety protocols; how many staff to hire; the best way to offer food and beverage service; and who gets tickets and at what price.
“I hate to use the word unprecedented but that’s exactly what it is,” said Legg. “No one’s got a model or pattern from which to follow.
“I think every team is guessing. Do you offer the tickets to past season-ticket holders … or do you simply put it out to the highest bidder? How you price them becomes tricky because you really don’t know what the demand is going to be.”
There’s also the risk of games being postponed. The Canadiens had four games postponed last week after two players were placed in COVID-19 protocol.
Enforcing mask rules, when people are cheering, eating and drinking, can cause problems.
“In some respects, I would think they might be better off just waiting until next fall again,” Legg said.
Spectators from abroad will be barred from the Tokyo Olympics when they open in four months, the IOC and local organizers said Saturday.
The decision was announced after an online meeting of the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese government, the Tokyo government, the International Paralympic Committee, and local organizers.
The move was expected and rumoured for several months. Officials said the risk was too great to admit ticket holders from overseas during a pandemic, an idea strongly opposed by the Japanese public. Japan has attributed about 8,800 deaths to COVID-19 and has controlled the virus better than most countries.
“In order to give clarity to ticket holders living overseas and to enable them to adjust their travel plans at this stage, the parties on the Japanese side have come to the conclusion that they will not be able to enter into Japan at the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the Tokyo organizing committee said in a statement.
About 1 million tickets are reported to have been sold to fans from outside Japan. Organizers have promised refunds, but this will be determined by so-called Authorized Ticket Resellers that handle sales outside Japan. These dealers charge fees of up to 20 per cent above the ticket price. It is not clear if the fees will be refunded.
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“We could wait until the very last moment to decide, except for the spectators,” said Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee. “They have to secure accommodations and flights. So we have to decide early otherwise we will cause a lot of inconvenience from them. I know this is a very tough issue.”
IOC President Thomas Bach called it a “difficult decision.”
“We have to take decisions that may need sacrifice from everybody,” he said.
The financial burden of lost ticket sales falls on Japan. The local organizing committee budget called from $ 800 million income from ticket sales, the third largest income source in the privately finance budget. Any shortfall in the budget will have to be made up by Japanese government entities.
Overall, Japan is officially spending $ 15.4 billion US to organize the Olympics. Several government audits say the actual cost may be twice that much. All but $ 6.7 billion is public money.
About 4.45 million tickets were sold to Japan residents. Organizers are expected next month to announce the capacity at venues, which will be filled by local residents.
The ban on fans from abroad comes just days before the Olympic torch relay starts Thursday from Fukushima prefecture in northeastern Japan. It will last for 121 days, crisscross Japan with 10,000 runners, and is to end on July 23 at the opening ceremony at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The relay will be a test for the Olympics and Paralympics, which will involve 15,400 athletes entering Japan. They will be tested before leaving home, tested upon arrival in Japan, and tested frequently while they reside in a secure “bubble” in the Athletes Village alongside Tokyo Bay.
Athletes will not be required to be vaccinated to enter Japan, but many will be.
In the midst of Saturday’s meeting, Bach and others were given a reminder about earthquake-prone northeastern Japan — and Japan in general.
A strong earthquake shook Tokyo and triggered a tsunami warning as Bach and others made introductory remarks before the virtual meeting. The strength was put a 7.0 by the U.S. Geological Survey and the location was in northeastern Japan, an area hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
“I think the screen is shaking. Have you noticed the screen is shaking,” Tamayo Marukawa, Japan’s Olympic minister, said as she made her presentation from Tokyo talking remotely to Bach visible on a screen in Switzerland. “We’re actually in the midst of an earthquake right now.”
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin on Wednesday reiterated the ruling body’s commitment to holding the rescheduled European Championship this year in 12 cities across the continent as originally planned.
The 24-nation event, which was due to take place in June-July last year, was postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The tournament, scheduled to start on June 11, is to be played in 12 cities across Europe and Ceferin is also optimistic that fans will be allowed inside stadiums again.
“I’m optimistic that things are highly likely to be very different with regard to the virus as we move closer to the tournament,” Ceferin said in a statement.
“It’s important that we give the host cities and governments as much time as we can to formulate an accurate picture of what will be possible come June and July.
“Fans are such a big part of what makes football special… We must allow ourselves the maximum space to allow their return to the stadiums.”
UEFA said the deadline for the submission of plans to accommodate fans inside the stadiums was moved to early April.
Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said last week that Ceferin was weighing up whether to stage this year’s tournament in one country due to coronavirus concerns.
They drove for hours to see Donald Trump last weekend then lined up for hours more, wearing Trump caps and T-shirts, chanting Trump chants, jeering various Trump’s nemeses, and seething over an election they will eternally insist was stolen from Trump.
The decisions made by this same group of Georgia voters over the next few weeks could shape the course of American politics for the next few years.
A pair of Jan. 5 elections in this state will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, with registration closing Monday and advance voting beginning next week.
To hold the chamber, Republicans must win one of these two races; the outcome will affect future president Joe Biden’s ability to confirm judges, appoint cabinet members, and sign legislation.
The concern for Republicans: Will these voters show up?
The party’s fortunes depend on turnout from what might be described as ‘Trump First’ voters, those diehard supporters currently fuming at anybody they see as insufficiently loyal to the president.
What has party brass concerned: the possibility these voters might stay home after the presidential election, disillusioned by Republican officials’ refusal to help Trump overturn the result.
The weekend rally in Georgia allowed for a timely temperature-taking of this powerful slice of the electorate.
Very few people had signs for Republican senators Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue at the event, even though their re-election campaign was ostensibly the reason Trump flew in for an airport runway rally.
When Loeffler and Perdue spoke, rally-goers drowned them out with chants about the president like, “Stop the steal!,” and, “Fight for Trump,” a chorus of thousands of people making clear what truly stirs the political passions.
Fuming at Trump’s loss
Seated in the crowd, Pete Toole said he dislikes most politicians — that includes all Democrats, and most Republicans.
The one Republican he truly adores is Trump. And what matters to him, right now, is getting the Supreme Court to overturn the presidential election result.
He’s not sure how, or on the basis of what legal arguments or evidence any of that could happen, but the retired grocer from the small town of Uvalda, Ga. just can’t believe his man truly lost.
The answer to the Democrat voter fraud is not to stay at home – that’s what Pelosi and Schumer want you to do. If you want revenge on the Democrats for their efforts to steal the Presidential election, where we are fighting hard, you have to show up and vote in RECORD numbers! <a href=”https://t.co/XAJ0F2JmeL”>pic.twitter.com/XAJ0F2JmeL</a>
He thinks other Republicans should be doing more to help Trump stay in office and his disdain extends to the two Republican Senate candidates who were on that stage.
“I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I’m for Trump,” Toole said. “I don’t like [Republican senators Kelly] Loeffler or [David] Perdue.”
Loeffler and Perdue are seeking re-election against Raphael Warnock, the pastor in Martin Luther King’s old church, and Jon Ossoff, a former congressional staffer.
Toole sees his party’s candidates as weak and mealy-mouthed and said they need to be tough like Trump. When asked how, specifically, they should model their behaviour on the president’s, he replied: “On everything. They should have his personality. Speak their mind.”
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So what’s the bottom line — will he turn out for the Senate runoffs or not? “I’m going to vote probably for Loeffler and Perdue.”
The reason: to stop the left from gaining power.
And that was the main takeaway from the vast majority of the many rally-goers interviewed by CBC News and other media during the weekend event.
Most of whom said that even if the presidential race mattered most to them, and even if they’re unenthused by most Republicans, they would still turn out and cast ballots to help their party keep the Senate.
There were exceptions.
Lauren Voyles, who made a five-hour drive from north of Atlanta for the event, said she has lost faith in the electoral system. She thinks the vote was rigged against the president, despite the lack of evidence of electoral fraud.
She fumed at the so-called “crooks,” and the “fake-news media,” and what she sees as the weak-kneed Republican establishment not fighting hard enough to keep Trump in the White House.
When asked if she’ll vote in the Senate race she said: “Not in the current system — why would I?”
That dismissive attitude was echoed by angry Republicans who at a recent event shouted down the party chair, and by pro-Trump lawyers who urged a boycott of Senate races as a protest against a party establishment they deride as disloyal to the president.
Stakes high for Democrats too
Such talk is sweet music to Democrats’ ears.
One Democrat who lives several hours north raised her hands in pretend prayer when asked if she expected rifts on the right to depress Republican turnout.
Latresha Jackson, a volunteer with the Democratic Party near Atlanta, said her party badly wants those two seats, which would result in a 50-50 Senate tie and allow vice-president-elect Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes.
“Democrats understand what’s on the line,” Jackson said, speaking at her home in Forsyth County.
The head of the Democratic Party in that same county, Melissa Clink, noted that the party that retains the Senate doesn’t just win more votes — its leadership controls the chamber agenda and decides which bills come up for a vote.
All of which holds potential consequences on issues like health care, climate change, infrastructure, and immigration policy.
“Two years of gridlock,” is how Clink described a McConnell-led Senate. “Right now [McConnell is] the gatekeeper of what we even speak about on the floor.”
Her county branch began dropping off promotional flyers last weekend for the Jan. 5 vote, and progressive groups have mailed out applications for absentee ballots.
Democrats, however, have a taller hill to climb.
While some recent polling gives Democrats an edge in what will likely be two close races, history and math are on the Republican side.
For starters, Republicans only need to win one race to retain the advantage; Democrats need both. In addition, Republicans have a history of stronger turnout in runoff elections like these ones, which in Georgia are held after a general election when there are multiple candidates and nobody surpasses 50 per cent.
In the last such runoff, in 2018, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, expanded his wafer-thin general-election lead by more than 3 percentage points in the runoff.
That’s the same Brad Raffensperger who is now receiving death threats because he’s in charge of running Georgia’s elections and he’s refusing to help Trump overturn the result.
Republican strategy: keep Trump in the conversation
Which brings us to the president’s rally.
After the weekend event, it’s now crystal-clear what the Republican strategy is in its effort to ensure turnout from Trump-loving voters.
They’re keeping Trump in the conversation.
Several speakers at the weekend rally cast this Senate vote as a chance to cement the president’s legacy and protect it from Democrats who would undo his tax, energy, climate, and other policies.
“Don’t let them take [that legacy] away,” said Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, current Trump cabinet member, and cousin to one Republican candidate, Sen. David Perdue.
Trump, for his part, delivered a long speech with three basic themes.
First, he encouraged Republicans to turn out. He called this vote the most important congressional runoff in history, and lauded the two Senate candidates.
Second, he trashed other Georgia Republicans. The bulk of Trump’s speech consisted of grievances about the election, and complaints about the governor, who has refused to help him overturn the result.
Finally, he also gave what sounded like a valedictory address. Trump concluded the speech by listing things his presidency achieved, from tax cuts, to building a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.
Trump urged Georgians to cement that legacy by turning out for the Perdue and Loeffler: “These seats are the last line of defence to save America and protect all that we have accomplished.”
Not that Trump will ever admit defeat.
Nor will his supporters. They aren’t just grumbling about an election loss; a large number appear to deeply believe he was robbed, based on a litany of unproven or disputed allegations now repeatedly dismissed in court.
They’re livid at the media for reporting he lost. A few screamed at a Fox News crew, while several shouted epithets at the media bus leaving the rally.
Bob Kunst, who drove up from Miami for what he said was his 201st Trump-related event, said Republicans plan to unseat, in future primaries, anyone who fails to help Trump hold onto power.
Some of the rhetoric, he said, is getting even more heated.
“This is like civil-war time,” he said. “I am the most mild-mannered person. But I am way angry. … I’ve had people here tell me they’re armed to the teeth.”
Yet he still cares about the Senate and wants Republicans to win. “They have to,” Kunst said.
One conservative radio host who’s been lukewarm on Trump — initially opposing him, then backing him, and often criticizing him — says he expects the party to unite for the Senate races.
Erick Erickson, a Georgia-based talk-show host, said a number of Republicans do care first and foremost about Trump.
But he said there’s also been a swift backlash to the talk about a boycott, and he expects Republicans will show up. He said history has also shown Georgia Republicans do turn out in non-presidential races, as they did in the 2018 midterm year.
“I think the GOP goes two for two [in the Senate races],” Erickson said in an interview outside his Atlanta studio.
“But it’s gonna be a slugfest. Those of us in TV and radio — we’re gonna come out the winners in this. … It’s going to be close. Maybe closer than it should be.”
The development of two potential COVID-19 vaccines could be a major assist in the battle against the coronavirus, but they might not be a game changer when it comes to NHL fans being able to return to arenas in the near future.
Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control and infectious diseases specialist at the University Health Network in Toronto, said even if a vaccine becomes available early in the new year, it will take several months for enough of the population to be vaccinated.
“In order for there to be some kind of a herd immunity effect from vaccination … you still need about 85 per cent coverage in the population for it to really be helpful,” said Hota, who also is an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“I think we do have to mentally prepare ourselves, I’d say, for at least a year to try and roll out the vaccine and feel like you’ve got coverage to a point where it’s more protective on a population level.”
Pharmaceutical companies Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca have said their vaccine candidates are at least 90 per cent effective in preventing a COVID-19 infection.
But until an adequate level of protection is reached, Hota believes gatherings like crowds attending sporting events should be restricted.
“I think the goal would be to minimize and keep the sort of two-metre distancing as much as possible between people included in the stadium,” she said. “So that does limit the overall capacity quite a bit.”
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NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league hopes to return Jan. 1 and wants to play a full 82-game season with fans in arenas. League officials have also said they must be flexible in their planning and the format used to begin the season might change over time.
According to Statista.com, an NHL team will lose nearly $ 1.5 million US in ticket sales and revenue generated from food and beverage for each home game played before empty seats.
One return to play possibility for the NHL is dividing the league into four regional divisions, including one featuring the seven Canadian teams.
The divisional teams could travel to a hub city for a series of games then return home. Another scenario could see a team like Vancouver fly east and play two or three games over a week in Montreal.
Financial challenges loom
David Legg, a professor of sports management at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said a vaccine that allows some fans into buildings won’t cure the NHL’s financial problems.
Like other businesses trying to stay afloat during the pandemic, NHL teams hosting games will have to be creative in their ticket pricing and food services.
“Every business is thinking that way,” said Legg. “They’re trying to think about ways to kind of engender loyalty to the brand, even though they might take a financial hit this year.
“From a long-game perspective, you want to ensure that fans enjoy themselves. Maybe they price food and beverages less than they normally would, knowing they’re going to take a hit financially short term, but long term they are going to generate fan loyalty.”
Even with a vaccine, it’s “a total crapshoot” how many fans will want to attend games, said Legg.
“That’s the great unknown,” he said. “I would suspect the majority of the people will probably wait and just kind of see how it goes. And if it seems to them it’s safe, they’ll fall in line.”
Barriers to entry
Hota said the restrictions on fans in buildings could extend into next fall.
“That might be the earliest that we could get to some point of overall vaccination rates … that would be reassuring,” she said. “I think the safest way to do it is to transition things slowly.”
Travel restrictions between Canada and the U.S. might extend into 2022, she said. Even travelling within Canada could be difficult.
“Travel means you’re crossing in jurisdictions where they may be at different stages of vaccination,” said Hota. “It’s taking into context their local transmission rates, the accessibility to vaccinations in that area.”
Another issue affecting the NHL is the hurdles the U.S. may face in vaccinating its population.
“They’re 10 times our size and they have a greater problem with COVID right now and a lot of complexities on rolling things out,” said Hota.
This time, on this Sunday in late November, there are no horses roaming around in a hotel lobby, a tradition dating back to 1948.
There’s no Pigskin Pete chanting ‘Oskee Wee Wee!’ from street corners or the sidelines.
Groceries stores in the host Grey Cup city aren’t running low on watermelons, after a green wave of fans from Saskatchewan showed up to party.
And there will be no fly-over above the stadium just minutes before game time, the surge of the jet engines injecting excitement and electricity into the venue.
Fans, many bleary-eyed from a week-long bender, aren’t waking up on this Sunday having to will themselves awake and muster up one last push to kick-off.
For the first time since 1919 the Grey Cup won’t be awarded to a deserving Canadian Football League team and that means the shenanigans that goes with a quintessentially Canadian and quirky celebration isn’t playing out either.
Instead, Mosaic Stadium in Regina which was meant to host this year’s championship game sits empty, more than 33,000 green, plastic chairs out in the cold. The snow hasn’t been cleared from the aisles awaiting the rush of fans to take their seats.
The lights and buzz and hum of Grey Cup Sunday, hushed.
This is a dark time in the league’s history. Unable to play in 2020 after the league officially cancelled the season in August, many questions still remain as the CFL tries to remain optimistic about its future, earlier this week releasing a “comeback” 2021 schedule.
But this isn’t the first time the CFL has been in a precarious position. In past decades, there have been times the league teetered on the edge of collapse, only to find a way to play another season. And much like the league itself, the Grey Cup trophy has also endured.
Commissioned at a cost of $ 48 in 1909, the 13-inch silver chalice with a wooden base certainly comes from humble beginnings. That small trophy has grown mightily over the years, becoming the grand, shiny, prize players hold over their heads after winning it – sometimes they break it too.
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In fact, the Grey Cup has been broken too many times to count now – overzealous players so thrilled to finally hoist it, snapping the original top from its base. The trophy has been stolen twice, held ransom once and even survived a 1947 fire that destroyed numerous artifacts housed in the same building.
This Sunday, though, the trophy won’t be ushered out by Mounties and presented to the champions.
And for as much as the championship has been about two teams waging war on the field in the hopes of names being etched into the side of the trophy, forever being a champion in Canada’s football league, it perhaps more importantly has been about bringing people together.
Whether a Ticats, Stamps, Bombers, Riders, Edmonton, Als, Argos, Lions or Redblacks fan and whether you’re a diehard or casual observer of the CFL, for millions of Canadians on this one Sunday in late November, the Grey Cup has symbolized community and celebration.
Forget the beach or some exotic foreign country, people plan their annual holidays around Grey Cup week — attend any one of these national celebrations and you’ll get the feeling it’s more like a family reunion, many of the same faces and costumes appearing year after year. The country this one week in November feels a little smaller and a lot more united.
It’s meant Shania Twain riding a dog sled into the stadium to perform the halftime show. It’s meant 13th Man heartbreak. The Fog Bowl in 1962, Ice Bowl in 1977 and the Snow Bowl 1996. John Candy in a long leather coat in Winnipeg, watching his Argos win it all. Tom Hanks and Martin Short in Regina.
It’s meant last-second field goals, body-contorting catches and plot twists in the waning minutes only the CFL can manufacture. No lead is ever safe.
It’s produced heroes, from Warren Moon to Tony Gabriel, Rocket to Pinball and Ridgway to Flutie. The list goes on.
The weight of not playing a CFL season is being felt today more than any other time throughout the last seven months because on this Sunday in late November, millions of Canadians are supposed to be gathering in their homes, placing their bets and enjoying their favourite snacks and beverages. It’s just what’s happened on this day in November for decades.
The league will survive. It always has. And that treasured trophy will be lifted to the heavens again as confetti swirls and the bright lights of the stadium shines down on the champions.
But on this Sunday in late November, the promise of what might just happen next over 60 minutes of Grey Cup football is gone.
NHL players usually show up for training camp in September after a summer filled with workouts and skating sessions.
They ease into the exhibition schedule — veterans might play half the games — as part of a slow build towards the regular season.
The playoffs and the Stanley Cup are the ultimate goal. Both are also a long way off.
There’s inevitably some early rust, and those October matchups can be sloppy, especially before coaches get a chance to really drill down on systems and tendencies.
So in a season like no other, what will the hockey look like after 143 days between meaningful games when the NHL’s pandemic-halted campaign resumes Aug. 1 following a chaotic sprint to get ready?
“Fun to watch,” Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. “Intensity’s going to be high, extremely fast-paced. We’ll probably see some wild hockey games.”
“Fast and wild,” added Washington Capitals defenceman John Carlson.
Most players were off skates for two months or more after the league suspended its schedule March 12 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak. Some had access home gyms, while others were cooped up in condos without any equipment at their disposal.
NHLers started to trickle back into arenas as different jurisdictions opened in the spring. Clubs were allowed to make facilities available for voluntary on- and off-ice workouts in June.
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After the league and the NHL Players’ Association gave the 24-team restart a thumbs up earlier this month, training camps opened July 13. It’s then off to the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto on July 26 before the mad dash for the Cup begins after just one exhibition game.
“Everyone’s had a chance to get away and reflect and get some rest and probably feel a lot better mentally and physically with a long break like this,” Tavares said. “We know how fast and talented our league is overall.
“There’s not much room for error, so the stakes are high right off the bat.”
Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand, however, said in April things could look “really, really ugly” to start, while Winnipeg Jets sniper Patrik Laine mused in May he might be “terrible” after such a long layoff. The Finn hadn’t changed his tune a couple of days into camp.
But for the most part, players don’t think it will take long for the 24 mostly healthy teams involved in the resumption to find their groove.
“This is a league where you have to prepare,” Calgary Flames centre Elias Linholm said. “And if you don’t, you’re going to be out of the league pretty quick. I think guys have been preparing pretty good. I don’t think you need much time on the ice to get back.”
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan agreed it shouldn’t take the best in the world at their craft to figure things out, especially when considering the stakes.
“These guys are proud guys,” he said. “A lot of them see the opportunity in front of them. That drive and that motivation to win a Stanley Cup is going to force players into a quick adjustment process.
“I can assure you this: the competition is going to be fierce. As play starts to resume and the more games guys get under their belt, the quality of execution will continue to improve.”
Vancouver Canucks defenceman Christopher Tanev is sure of one thing as well: playing in empty arenas will impact the game.
“The momentum swings will be quite different,” he said. “Especially when you don’t have fans cheering for you or when you’re on the road [and] the rink gets going and the other team can maybe get five or seven minutes of a big momentum swing.”
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Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas said the unique nature of the situation, including 16 clubs battling in the best-of-five qualifying round for the right to fill out the final eight spots of the usual playoff bracket, will be intriguing.
“There’s no experience that anyone’s had like this,” he said. “You can look at some of the Canada Cups or World Cups for players who come into tournaments on long layoffs. Then again, those are [September] tournaments coming off April, May, June finishes depending on where you were in the standings.
“This is an August resumption after a March ending, so almost a five-month layoff for everyone between games, and just one exhibition game. I really don’t have any idea what it’s going to look like.”
Toronto centre Auston Matthews also doesn’t know what’s coming after so much time on the shelf, but he’s eager to find out.
“I keep reading that a lot of people feel that this is probably gonna be the hardest Stanley Cup to win with everybody being fresh,” he said. “I’m not sure anybody really knows what to expect.
“Once the puck’s dropped, guys are going to be competing for a Stanley Cup, which is all that really matters.”
Edmonton’s downtown arena could be home to a special brand of playoff hockey this summer— a Stanley Cup run that would see players quarantined and the stands remain empty.
With Edmonton expected to be named as a hub city for the National Hockey League’s resumption of play, hockey fans in the capital city are buzzing with anticipation about what might lie ahead.
Speculation surrounding a pending announcement began swirling on Wednesday with numerous sports news agencies reporting that Edmonton and Toronto will host the 2020 NHL playoffs.
Vancouver, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis have also been vying for the chance to host.
A formal announcement has not been made — and CBC has not independently confirmed the reports — but TSN and Sportsnet are both reporting the news. Officials with the Edmonton Oilers declined to comment on Wednesday.
Terry Jones, a sports columnist with Postmedia, said Edmonton is the obvious choice. Rogers Place is large and well-equipped to keep players safely isolated.
“I’ve been championing this from the beginning,” Jones said in an interview Wednesday.
“Edmonton is the only city involved that checks all the boxes. It has more and better dressing rooms, it has enclosed practice rinks. It has an arena with a five-star hotel across the road that can hold all the teams for the first round, with a pedway.
“The players could be in the bubble all the time.”
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Edmonton wasn’t initially a front runner in the bid, Jones said, but a sudden escalation of COVID-19 cases in the United States has made Canadian markets more attractive.
“Las Vegas, a pretty sexy city, was virtually a lock,” Jones said.
“When they allowed the casinos to open again, [COVID-19] just went skyrocketing again, along with so many of the other American places. There were so many positive tests with hotel personnel, Las Vegas just played itself right out of the game.
“In the United States, there was nowhere safe left to go and there were just two Canadian cities left standing.”
In the United States, there was nowhere safe left to go and there were just two Canadian cities left standing.-Terry Jones
Jones said questions remain about how the NHL will handle possible outbreaks among its players during the playoffs. Any plan would need to be fully ratified by players, Jones said.
“The players clearly want to play but there is lots of stuff that still needs to be done,” he said.
Mayor Don Iveson was not available for an interview on Wednesday but earlier this week said Edmonton would be well-suited to host. The number of COVID-19 cases in the city has remained relatively low, unlike some potential markets in the United States, he said.
“It’s an exciting prospect but it’s hard to comment on speculation or rumour at this point,” Iveson said during a Tuesday news conference at city hall.
“We’re not often united between Toronto and Edmonton, but if we’re all being good Canadians, it would be a great Canada Day reward to this country and to these cities for the work that our citizens have done to keep counts low.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada and public health authorities in Toronto and Edmonton have given their approval of the NHL’s plan to keep players separate from the general public.
Called a cohort quarantine, it would allow players to bypass the traditional 14-day self-isolation for anyone entering Canada.
The NHL plans to start training camps for the 24 playoff teams on July 10 and hopes to resume play later in the summer.
Games would be played before empty arenas and players would be kept separate from the public.
In a statement to CBC News, Alberta Health Services said it is prepared for the possibility of playoff hockey. Health protocols were developed earlier this spring by Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“In May, Dr. Hinshaw announced that Alberta Health had developed guidelines for professional sporting tournaments that would allow Edmonton to be considered for a hub city for the NHL playoffs while still protecting Albertans,” the statement said.
“These guidelines were developed to support players, NHL staff, media personnel and Albertans to stay healthy and safe during such an event.
“If Edmonton is chosen, health officials will work with all applicable partners to ensure the guidance is followed to the letter and to protect the public.”