B.C. officials won’t bend health rules to let NHL play in province

Vancouver’s chances of becoming one of the National Hockey League’s “hub cities” could be like a defenceman’s slapper from the point — a bit of a long shot.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced some details about how the league plans to resume its 2019-20 season Tuesday, including a 24-team playoff format.

Among the details was an announcement that the league is planning on having two hub cities where multiple teams would play their games. One city would host Western Conference teams, the other would host the Eastern Conference teams.

Ten cities made the shortlist, including three from Canada: Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto.

Watch a two-minute recap of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s press conference:

Commissioner Bettman outlined the NHL’s 24-team playoff format, and the draft lottery. 2:11

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, however, said the Canadian cities would not be possible locations unless Canada rescinded its 14-day quarantine requirements for international travellers.

“If we’re not able to really get an interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players’ ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room … we won’t be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub city,” Daly said. 

“So we’re faced with having to find a solution to that. And hopefully we can.”

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the 24-team straight-to-playoffs format at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. However, there is still no timetable for the resumption of games due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/File)

Border woes

Giving NHL teams a pass on quarantine requirements is not on the mind of B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.

She said Tuesday she hasn’t seen a plan from the NHL but any exceptions for pro hockey would be offside.

“I would love to have hockey but … we’re not bending the rules in any way that would put what we have achieved here in B.C. at risk.” 

“I’m happy to see what we can do but we won’t be changing any rules that would put anybody at risk.”

Premier John Horgan has made no secret of his desire to see B.C. as a venue for NHL action but speaking later Tuesday, he backed up Henry’s position.

“We want to support the Canucks in whatever endeavour they go forward in but we want to make sure the rules are the same for everybody,” Horgan said. 

UBC lecturer Aziz Rajwani, sporting a vintage Trevor Linden Canucks jersey, said there are some factors working against Canadian cities as NHL hubs. (CBC)

Aziz Rajwani, a lecturer at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business said if Vancouver did become a hub city, it would be great for the moribund hospitality industry and provide a shot of civic pride.

However, he thinks if any Canadian city has a chance, it’s likely to be Toronto in the east. 

He also points out it’s hard to imagine the league wanting to play on both sides of the border.

“You’re gonna have to navigate through two federal governments, their rules, their regulations, their health officials,” Rajwani said.

“If you stick to one country, that process is much easier.”

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