The NHL borrowed the North Division from the CFL and the three-down league can use hockey’s guidelines for returning to play in 2021.
Commissioner Gary Bettman received the go-ahead from the Public Health Agency of Canada for NHL teams to play in their home arenas across the country against only other franchises north of the border.
It’s the first all-Canadian division in NHL history. The league had only Canadian teams in its first seven seasons (1917-1918 to 1923-1924) until the Boston Bruins became the first United States-based franchise in 1924-1925.
In reaching an agreement on the format for the 2021 season, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association determined that the ongoing closure of the United States-Canada border required realignment. The league and union sought to minimize team travel as much as possible by shifting to exclusively intradivisional play.
The Government of Canada’s priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada’s measures to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19.
Like other countries, Canada continues to work on the safe resumption of practice or game play in professional sports. The Government is open to reviewing proposals from professional sports organizations that include a comprehensive risk mitigation plan.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the National Hockey League’s (NHL) 2020-21 risk mitigation plan for the purpose of pre-season practice and training against public health criteria and concluded that—when fully implemented—it offers robust measures to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in Canada. All provinces with NHL teams have provided written support for this plan.
Based on these factors, the Government of Canada has issued an exemption to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period under national interest grounds for team members and staff of the NHL to return to pre-season practice and training.
NHL teams and other professional sports teams must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events, which can include seasonal game play.
The NHL’s current plan is to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will not — at least for the early part of the season — be able to host fans. The Canadiens, Senators, Maple Leafs, Jets, Flames, Oilers, and Canucks will play every other team in the North Division nine or ten times during the 56-game regular season.
Depending on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic in local markets and across North America, the NHL is prepared to play games in one or more neutral site venues for each division should it become necessary.
It’s plausible that the CFL could follow the NHL’s blueprint for putting football back on the field in 2021. All of the league’s teams are based and play within Canada’s borders, just like the NHL has done in creating its all-Canadian division.
Bettman has set the precedent for pro sports being played in Canada. The CFL has planned a full schedule for the upcoming season and the NHL has shown the way for football to return to play — Randy Ambrosie, take note.