Restrictions make NHL playoffs more likely to happen in U.S. than Canada

Signs point to the U.S. and Canada extending their bans on non-essential travel (i.e. crossing borders) to late July, according to Reuters. What does this mean for the NHL going through with the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs (and other return-to-play plans)? We’ll dig deeper, but the quick version is that the NHL is more likely to hold playoffs and training camps in the U.S. than in Canada.

A lot can change, to be clear. But things are definitely gravitating toward the United States.

Canada’s 14-day quarantine guideline makes U.S. logical spot for NHL playoffs

In the simplest terms, Canada’s 14-day quarantine guideline lingers as the key difference.

As a refresher, note that anyone entering Canada must self-isolate for those two weeks. Only afterward can you, say, play hockey.

In noting that the Flames might hold training camp in the U.S., general manager Brad Treliving explained to Sportsnet’s Eric Francis why the 14-day quarantine requirement could hamper anyone operating in Canada.

“The logistics have been worked on for a camp in the U.S., if need be,” Treliving said. “I don’t want guys coming back to Calgary and sitting on their butts for two weeks in their condos and being out of shape when it’s time to go again. It may make more sense for us to have camp in the U.S. so we can have guys together quicker and being productive. The quarantine issue is a big one.”

Francis notes that NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the 14-day quarantine would likely take Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto out of the mix as hub cities for the Return to Play plan. That seems especially logical considering that each location would aim to support 12 different teams with at least 50 people per team.

But, really, if you’re only going with hub cities in the U.S., it would probably make more sense to do it all south of the Canadian border, right?

Again, Treliving indicated that the Flames are looking into that. Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre reported that the Canucks were leaning in that direction as early as May.

While Phase 2 calls for scattered, small groups, training camps and the 24-team format would require much larger groupings. The timetable is small enough that setbacks could be significant to threading the needle for a return to play.

Things could change, but cultural viewpoints might not

On one hand, a lot of variables could make it tougher for the NHL’s return-to-play plan to succeed at all. On the other, it’s possible that Canada might become a more feasible option.

Such a change would boil down to Canada tweaking its quarantine policies.

Treliving floated an interesting idea about adapting quarantine. Rather than isolating players to sit on their butts in condos, what if a player could extend their “bubble” between their homes and the Saddledome?

” … The only place you’re going is a bubble – it’s with a peer group, not the public,” Treliving said. “And it’s probably the safest, cleanest, most sanitized place in the city of Calgary right now. You’re being tested on a regular basis.”

Bending the rules could be a thorny issue, though.

To an extent, an NHL return-to-play plan is already rolling the dice a bit. You’re trying to manage the risks of exposure with the rewards of handing out the Stanley Cup, and avoiding financial losses.

But, as much as the league emphasizes that it doesn’t want to take medical resources away from those who need it, we’ll need to see if that’s actually how things work out. This is unprecedented stuff, after all.

Simply put, Canada and the U.S. may just approach COVID-19 containment differently.

This isn’t just about mindset; it’s also about scale. David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer of Reuters succinctly summarized how differently COVID-19 hit the U.S. vs. Canada.

More than 110,000 people have died of the coronavirus in the United States, one of the world’s worst-hit nations. Canada reported 7,835 deaths, and 96,244 coronavirus cases on June 9.

So, yes, it’s possible travel ban restrictions might be loosened in Canada. Maybe those bubbles will expand faster than a player’s waistline waiting around at a condo.

In the grand scheme of things, though, it sure seems like if the NHL can pull off a return-to-play plan, it will probably involve training camps and the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs operating in the U.S.


James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For: