The NHL is coming to Toronto as part of a "hub city" arrangement that will see 24 hockey teams gather in predetermined "bubbles" to resume the 2019-2020 season after a 142-day-long, pandemic-mandated break.
League officials formally announced on Friday that Toronto will play home to 12 Eastern Conference teams for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, as well as the first two playoff rounds, while Edmonton will host the Western Conference for the same duration.
Gameplay is set to resume on August 1 at both Toronto's Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton's Rogers Place.
The unprecedented season is expected to end "no later than" October 4, according to the NHL, meaning that the winning teams will be required to stay in Canada for at least two months.
Most of those two months will be spent within designated hotels, where players, coaches and supporting staff will live, work and play when not on the ice — with few exceptions.
The hotels will fall within what the NHL calls "Phase 4 Secure Zones" that also include restaurants, practice facilities and the two arenas where games will be played.
TSN Insider Bob McKenzie revealed on Thursday that Hotel X and the Fairmont Royal York had been chosen as home bases for five and seven NHL teams, respectively, in Toronto. Neither hotel has yet publicly confirmed the bookings, though the latter has already cancelled existing reservations to accommodate the league.
The Canadian sports broadcast network further revealed a host of rules and regulations that will pertain to teams while staying in these hotels, gleaned from documents related to a newly-ratified four-year Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and players association.
Here's what we know so far, per the CBA and details provided by the NHL itself:
- Each team will be permitted to bring a maximum of 52 people inside their designated Phase 4 secure zones: 31 of them players, the rest made up of ownership, coaches, executives and staff. A full list of the travelling parties must be submitted to the NHL by today, July 13, as training camps open.
- At least one physician, one security representative, one "club Phase 4 compliance officer" and one content creator must be included among the 52-person travelling party.
- All individuals listed must be tested three times, 48 hours apart, in the seven days prior to arrival to the bubble.
- Upon arrival, everyone living inside the secure zones will be tested daily for COVID-19 via nasal swabs, as well as have daily temperature checks and symptom screenings. Any player who refuses to follow the testing and monitoring protocol "may be subject to permanent removal from the bubble."
- Individuals "who might have direct or indirect contact with NHL teams" will also be tested daily. This includes (but is not limited to) hotel housekeeping staff, hotel bartenders and servers, hotel security, arena ice crew, arena food and beverage staff and bus drivers.
- Anyone who tests positive will be isolated immediately, though the NHL maintains that "singular or even multiple isolated positive tests will not halt play."
- Players will be living in single occupancy rooms with no roommates. Players may not enter each others' rooms and each team will be assigned to designated floors.
- Housekeeping will only be provided to rooms every third day, but each person will have sustained access to contactless room service delivery, as well as delivery from local restaurants.
- Hotel bars and restaurants will be open every day within the bubble "provided social distancing is followed," according to TSN, and players will be able to access to hotel pools and fitness centres.
- All bubble inhabitants will have access to outdoor areas "to walk, exercise and mingle on campus," but individuals may only interact socially with people from their own traveling party for the first five days upon arrival.
- All individuals must wear non-medical masks or facial coverings inside the bubble when outside of their hotel rooms, unless eating, drinking or engaged in exercise. Coaches, on-ice officiants and broadcasters may remove their masks during games.
- Only authorized personnel will be allowed to enter or exit the designated bubbles. Players' children and partners will be permitted to join a bubble only during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final in Edmonton.
- Players who leave the bubble for "extenuating personal circumstances" or medical reasons may return, but will be forced to quarantine for at least four days depending on where they visited outside the bubble.
- TSN senior hockey reporter Frank Seravalli also reports that the NHL is also planning "league-approved 'excursions' both inside and outside of the bubble." No word yet on what the trips will entail, but Seravalli predicts outings such as "designated tee times at a local golf club" where social distancing and face coverings are mandatory.
Teams are scheduled to travel to their hub cities on July 26 and will play one exhibition game before resuming the NHL season.
"I think we have a good handle on a protocol," said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly in a statement of the safety measures.
"It's actually a protocol that was agreed to among the various professional sports leagues and run by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and it's gone to the White House."
Fortunately, it's also been vetted by Canada's arguably much better-informed federal government.