While progress is being made against the spread of the coronavirus daily, there are still concerns about the restrictions that may still be in place even months from now. Speaking on TSN’s “Insider Trading” on Thursday night, Pierre LeBrun expressed that there remain worries that the Canadian borders will still be closed in June. By that time, the NHL regular season will be over and the four North Division playoff teams will have battled each other and produced a winner. At that point, the Canadian team can no longer be separated from its American counterparts as it has been during the regular season. The team will need to play on the road in the U.S. as well as host an American team in the semifinal round and possibly in the Stanley Cup Final. If crossing the Canadian border still requires a 14-day quarantine, or really any multi-day quarantine, by that time then a playoff series cannot occur in Canada.
Of course, given the progress being made, LeBrun hopes that Canada will have loosened its border policies over the next three months. Even if the COVID climate in Canada has improved to the point that the national and provincial governments are willing to make an exception and put together specific protocol for NHL travel, that would work. Otherwise, the only alternative solution that LeBrun has heard to this point would see the Canadian winner relocate to the nearest American city that would be a suitable home. While not an ideal option for the team or its fans, this would allow the series to occur normally. Selecting a close city would also require the least amount of travel for the Canadians and would make the logistics of setting up a temporary home easier. LeBrun notes that the league would likely have the cities selected for each of the four North Division finalists when the postseason begins to allow time to set up their new home.
While LeBrun offered Buffalo as the new location for the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs, Minneapolis for the current second-place Winnipeg Jets, and an early introduction to the NHL for the city of Seattle in the event of an epic comeback for the Vancouver Canucks this season, that is where the easy relocations end. The closest American city to the Montreal Canadiens is Boston, an unlikely destination not only due to the age-old rivalry but also because the Bruins are a potential finalist and even opponent. Would Montreal also call Buffalo home? They could also move to a current or former AHL city like Portland, Manchester, Albany, Utica or Syracuse. The closest potential home may even be Burlington, Vermont, home of the University of Vermont. Montreal has options, albeit not without work to do. However, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames are more difficult. The Alberta cities are not “close” to any American NHL or AHL cities. Seattle could be the best bet for these teams as well, if the arena is ready to go. However, Grand Forks, North Dakota, home to the University of North Dakota, made a strong pitch to the NHL to be a hub city for last season’s resumption and could make a similar offer to house the Oilers or Flames (or the neighboring Jets). Either way, the Alberta teams would be traveling quite far from home to close out the postseason. The plan would work, but surely the league and its Canadian contingent are hoping it won’t come to that when the time arrives in June.