OTTAWA, Ontario — The NHL and health authorities are working on a travel exemption that would allow the winner of the all-Canadian North Division and an American opponent to cross the border during the final two rounds of the playoffs, including the Stanley Cup Final, according to a report by The Canadian Press.
The exemption would let teams enter Canada for games without having to isolate for 14 days, as is currently required for nonessential travelers because of the pandemic, CP reported Sunday, citing two people in the federal government who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The NHL has been working to secure approval from public health authorities in the provinces and cities that still have teams in the playoffs — Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal, the sources told CP. Final approval rests with federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
In an email to CP, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the effort was “a work in progress.”
The winner of Monday night’s Game 7 between Montreal and Toronto will play the Jets in the North Division final. The winner of that series will face one of three American division winners in the league semifinals. The two semifinal winners will square off for the Stanley Cup.
Cross-border travel in the NHL has been virtually nonexistent since the pandemic hit North America last spring. Last summer, the NHL concluded its season with playoff hubs in Toronto and Edmonton, but all American teams crossed the border just once to open play.
For this season, the league put all seven Canadian teams in one division, and they exclusively played each other to avoid cross-border travel. The NHL had said it was considering having the division winner relocate to the U.S. for the final two rounds unless the Canadian government relented.
Other Canadian professional sports teams have had to relocate to the U.S. to avoid cross-border travel. Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays started their season playing home games in Dunedin, Florida, and will call Buffalo, New York, home starting Tuesday.
Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC, CF Montreal and Vancouver Whitecaps have relocated to Florida or Utah.
Montreal became the first Canadian team to host a crowd on Saturday when 2,500 fans watched the home team defeat the Maple Leafs in overtime. That crowd was significantly smaller than those permitted in most U.S. venues for all sports, including the NHL.
Game 7 of that series is Monday in Toronto, so it’ll be back to no fans. Should the Canadiens upset the Maple Leafs, though, they would again be able to welcome fans for the second round.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.