Victoria has, for the second time, been brought up as a potential site for the restart of the NHL amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Premier John Horgan mentioned the capital, along with other B.C. Division cities of the major-junior Western Hockey League, when discussing his phone call this week with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
“We’ve heard from others around the league that have other ideas about, perhaps, having all of the games played in British Columbia,” Horgan said in a news conference in Victoria on Wednesday. “We have WHL rinks in Victoria, in Kamloops, in Kelowna, in Prince George. In the Kootenays, Cranbrook has an outstanding facility, as well. We have hotel space. So the sky’s really the limit. If we can make it work it would be great for B.C. and it would be great for the NHL.”
The idea of hosting all 31 NHL teams in one province has put a new spin on the potential restart and garnered coverage across North America.
“Mr. Bettman recognizes that British Columbia has had a pretty positive response in terms of flattening the curve,” Horgan said.
“Mr. Bettman also knows this is a hockey-crazy province. Of course, the NHL is concerned about players and the communities that they operate in. I believe we’re in a good place to host. That’s why I contacted the commissioner.”
The proposed main venue would be Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Lisa Beare, the provincial minister responsible for sport, has been in discussions with the Canucks.
Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre has been contracted by the province as an emergency pandemic homeless shelter through the end of June. If the NHL needed it sooner, that would be for Horgan, Beare and Social Development Minister Shane Simpson to sort out.
Since no fans will be allowed into games, seating capacity is of little concern. That makes any decent arena in B.C. a possibility, pending community amenities such as hotel room space of a certain standard. That would make most rinks in Greater Victoria eligible for what would basically be a made-for-TV studio type event. Last month, Victoria put in an independent bid to host restarted NHL games that emphasized “the low number of COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island, the made-for-TV arena [Memorial Centre], the number of top-end hotels for the NHL players and spectacular downtown TV visuals.”
But Bettman subsequently announced the league will not play in non-NHL venues such as Victoria, Saskatoon or North Dakota if it reopens this summer. People are now wondering if Horgan’s bold new initiative changes Bettman’s outlook.
All NHL players entering B.C. from the United States or Europe would have to quarantine for two weeks to comply with current provincial health regulations regarding the pandemic. “There are obstacles, obviously, in the way,” Horgan said.
“Mr. Bettman is well aware of that [quarantine regulation] as is the NHL Players’ Association.”
Other considerations include the Canada-U.S. border, which is closed to non-essential travel. That agreement ends on May 21, but Canada is looking to extend it to June 21. Would American NHL players crossing into Canada constitute essential travel?
Any restart would involve constant, almost daily, testing of the NHL players.
Other Canadian places interested in hosting games include Edmonton and Toronto.
Rumoured options being considered for the NHL restart include scrapping the remainder of the regular season and going straight into a 24-team playoff format.