The playoff-bound Winnipeg Jets will train as a team beginning July 10 and it’s becoming altogether likely the NHL team will hit the ice in the Manitoba capital, undeniably, one of the safest NHL markets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Central Division team had been facing quarantine issues on two fronts, provincially and federally, amidst the national health crisis, but on Thursday, Premier Brian Pallister removed one hurdle, while multiple reports suggest the other wrinkle could be smoothed out as early as Friday.
The NHL and NHL Players Association sent out identical statements Thursday announcing the 24 teams in the playoff mix can begin training next month, “provided that medical and safety conditions allow and that the parties have reached an overall agreement on resuming play.”
An immediate return to the ice in Winnipeg for Jets living in Canada became easier when the premier announced as of June 21 pro athletes returning to Manitoba won’t have to quarantine for 14 days if they have already self-isolated for two weeks at home.
Health officials communicated with the Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers before relaxing the 14-day self-isolation restriction as part of Phase 3 of the province’s reopening plan, Pallister said.
In Manitoba, the total caseload remains at 300, including 286 people who have recovered from COVID-19. No one is being treated in hospital, and the province’s total deaths remain at seven.
Meanwhile, it’s believed the federal government is working on a solution to the two-week quarantine to allow Canadian teams to hold training camps with their full rosters north of the border. The plan could extend the quarantine area to include a player’s home and the arena where they train, according to Sportsnet.
To a man, Winnipeg’s roster has vacated the city. Some remain in other parts of Canada, while others are the U.S. and Europe.
Management of the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks have all indicated holding their training camp in the United States is under consideration. It seems unlikely now the Jets would consider moving camp from one of North America’s safest spots, which is on six-day streak of no new coronavirus cases.
“Nothing we’re prepared to discuss right now,” Scott Brown, the Jets’ senior director of hockey communications, said Thursday,
The NHL suspended the 2019-20 regular season on March 12 because of the pandemic and officially cancelled it on May 26 when it revealed a 24-team playoff format, but has now moved to Phase 3 of its return-to-play plan.
Phase 4 will constitute the resumption of play — games played in two hub cities, in arenas without fans — although no official date has been determined.
Under the proposed playoff format, the Winnipeg Jets will play the Calgary Flames in a best-of-five preliminary-round series.
Apart from choosing the two hub cities — Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto are the three Canadian markets out of 10 North American centres in the running — testing capacity, safety and whether or not players will be quarantined away from family for two months or more are among the issues still to be addressed.
The three Canadian cities could hear as early as Friday that quarantine restrictions have been relaxed.
Meanwhile, the Canada-U.S. border closure is not an issue, as NHL players have work visas and have been summoned back to perform their duties.
— With files from Canadian Press
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
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