It looks like John Tavares, Auston Matthews and the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs will be staying — and playing — in Canada.
In a statement Thursday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league and all five provinces that have teams are in agreement on return-to-play protocols.
“On the basis of our discussions in the past week, as well as our exchange of correspondence over the last 24 hours, we believe we are aligned and in agreement on the conditions on which each of our Canadian franchises can begin play in their own buildings for the start of the 2020-21 NHL season,” Daly said.
Provincial governments in Ontario, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec had yet to confirm it publicly, but the door now appears to be open for the Maple Leafs, Senators, Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Jets and Canadiens to play on home ice when the season begins on Jan. 13.
The 56-game schedule released this week included an all-Canadian North Division, pending government approval. That wasn’t a lock, with concerns nationwide about limiting the spread of COVID-19 at a time when many areas are in lockdown. As first reported by TSN, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, sent a letter to the league on Wednesday, outlining concerns about testing and the volume of travel.
After lengthy discussions, however, and an acknowledgment by the league and the NHLPA that more stringent testing might be needed, the NHL felt comfortable issuing Thursday’s statement.
The Leafs open Jan. 13 with the first of 10 meetings with the Montreal Canadiens. Toronto will also play the Winnipeg Jets 10 times, with nine each against Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa.
Similar to baseball’s format, teams will often play two or three consecutive games against the same opponent. The Leafs have a pair of three-game series against Edmonton and Vancouver, and a total of nine back-to-backs.
The provinces asked for even less travel during the season, but Sportsnet reported Thursday that the league doesn’t expect to change the schedule.
The NHL and NHLPA also agreed with the provinces to have some NHL stars make public service announcements to reinforce pandemic protocols.