The NHL is prepared to adapt where necessary during the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the matter Tuesday, noting the league’s intention to adhere to all local and national regulations in an effort to prioritize the health and safety of its players and all involved with the game.
“If we can’t travel in Canada, either as among the provinces or from the U.S. to Canada and back, we’ll make whatever adjustments we have to do to get the playoffs completed,” Bettman said.
With seven Canadian teams in the North Division, the top four in the standings will qualify for the playoffs and compete within the division for the first two rounds. That will determine who will advance to the semifinals.
That team will play one of the winners of the other divisions, which could mean teams have to cross the Canada-U.S. border for the first time in this truncated and heavily-adjusted season.
With the possibility of border restrictions still on the table and different regional travel restrictions also in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, that could mean certain adjustments have to be in play.
“Where we play is going to depend on COVID, obviously,” said Bettman. “We hope to keep everybody healthy. And it’s going to depend on government regulations in terms of where we’re going to be able to travel our players and our teams, and where we can’t. As we have done throughout for the last year-plus, we’re going to continually review and explore all of our options and maintain the flexibility to do whatever we have to do with what we’re confronted with.”
If the schedule holds, the first time a Canadian team would need to cross the border to play an American team would be at some point in June. There’s no telling what the situation looks like then, even as vaccines roll out across the two countries.
The league has been reluctant to relax COVID-19 protocols for a number of reasons as of late, especially as the Vancouver Canucks’ situation shed light on just how quickly and suddenly the situation can change on the ground. Preparing for those types of contingencies obviously has to remain a top priority for the NHL.
“We believe that the protocols we have in place have been effective particularly when they are adhered to,” Bettman said. “Our players and other team personnel have been sensational for the most part. We believe that we will complete the regular season and get into the playoffs.”