NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly reiterated to TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun in an interview with The Athletic that Canada’s seven NHL teams have governmental clearance to hold training camp and open the season in their home markets.
On Dec. 24, the NHL released a statement saying the league believed it had approval "On the basis of our discussions (with provincial health authorities) in the past week, as well as our exchange of correspondence over the last 24 hours.” However, there was no joint announcement from the five provinces saying so as many remain in a modified lockdown to COVID-19 with non-essential events and gatherings on hold.
Still, Daly says the league is good to go - both for training camp and the regular season, which is scheduled for Jan. 13.
“Yes on both counts,” he told LeBrun. “We have the thumbs up, the clubs have the thumbs up. We think we put into place very, very comprehensive protocols that will keep people as safe as we can keep them. And we’re looking forward to operating in our seven Canadian markets.”
As one of the seven non-Return to Play teams from over the summer, this means the Senators will be able to begin camp in Ottawa on Thursday. Right now, the San Jose Sharks are the lone NHL team not scheduled to open camp or the regular season in their home market.
“As of currently, yes, that’s correct,” Daly said.
Santa Clara County in California has a temporary ban on indoor and contact sports. Instead of home, the Sharks are scheduled to hold training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz.
As for the possibility – and some would say inevitability – of a player, multiple players or a staff member testing positive, Daly said the league is going to play things by ear and react to the situation as it happens.
“(NHL commissioner) Gary (Bettman) likes to remain as flexible and nimble as possible, and he likes to avoid making hard and fast decisions on hypothetical scenarios that haven’t occurred yet,” he said.
“So I think we’re going to take the same approach to the issues of what happens in the event we have some people test positive and what that looks like. That strategy has paid dividends to this point and I expect it will continue to pay dividends. We’re comfortable with that approach.”
Since the NHL is going to try and play the season in teams’ home markets and given the contagiousness of COVID-19, Daly said it is possible the league may have to shut down particular team facilities in an effort to minimize any potential outbreak should the situation arise.
“We’ve seen it over the off-season with off-season conditioning or last summer in training camp where we went through periods where some clubs shut down their facilities for a number of days and made sure the problem wasn’t bigger than it looked like it could have been. And then re-opened,” Daly told LeBrun.
“Will we face that situation again? I certainly would hope not, but it would be unrealistic to think it’s not a distinct possibility. Again, we’ll deal with those situations as they arise.”
Whatever happens, Daly said the league is just trying to make the best of challenging and uncertain times.
“We’re looking forward to this season, I think it’ll be unique and exciting. I think a lot of the elements of the divisional alignment and the schedule and how it works, are going to be fun. So looking forward to the drop of the puck, for sure,” he said.