Lisa MacLeod Ontario's Minister of Tourism, Culture, and Sport attends Ontario Premier Doug Ford's daily briefing in Toronto on Monday, June 15, 2020. Ontario's minister of sport says the provincial government is examining how a Canadian division in the NHL might work.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario public health to weigh possibility of NHL restart as lockdown looms

Ontario public health to weigh possibility of NHL restart as lockdown looms

TORONTO — The NHL is considering having all seven Canadian teams play the upcoming season in the United States, according to multiple media reports.

The NHL was reportedly planning to realign its divisions for the 2020-21 campaign with a seven-team, all-Canadian division that would play domestically in Canada with no cross-border travel. However, reports Thursday night suggest that every Canadian team may have to head south instead to adhere to provincial guidelines around COVID-19.

“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,” the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a statement Thursday night following original reports from Sportsnet and TSN.

“NHL teams and other professional sports teams must operate within the rules of their provincial jurisdictions for sports or sporting events.

“Specific questions related to the NHL’s plans should be directed to the NHL.”

The league would need approval from health authorities in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia for a Canadian division to work, and it’s reportedly believed to have hit a roadblock.

Sportsnet reported that senior NHL executives held a conference call with the Canadian teams on Thursday afternoon and discussed the possibility of moving south of the border.

The Canadian Press reached out to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who did not comment on the current situation.

Ontario’s minister of sport, Lisa MacLeod, said earlier Thursday the provincial government is examining how a Canadian division in the NHL might work.

MacLeod said that discussions about the league’s return-to-play plan are happening at Ontario’s public health table with the province’s chief medical officer of health, as well as officials from Toronto and Ottawa.

MacLeod said that she expects to join those conversations in the next few days, as will her federal counterpart Steven Guilbeault.

“In terms of (the NHL’s) direct proposal, I believe I’m going to be briefed on that in the next day or so,” said MacLeod.

MacLeod said she spoke to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday and is scheduled to again on Friday. She said she has also had conversations with the Ottawa Senators over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league has targeted mid-January as a potential start date.

However, the Ontario Hospital Association today asked the Ontario government for a strict four-week lockdown in regions with high rates of COVID-19 positivity that would include Toronto and Ottawa.

Also, the mayors of Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., both said on Wednesday that they want a strict four-week lockdown to begin over the winter holidays to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the GTA.

Ontario reported a single-day record of 2,432 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 23 new deaths due to the virus.

The Ontario Hockey League hopes to begin its 2021 season in early February. MacLeod said that the league has not yet been cleared by Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“The health and well-being of all Ontarians is the No. 1 priority of this government and we continue to put measures into place that protect people,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2020.

The Canadian Press