Could Another Lockdown Move Canadian "Home Games" South?
News this weekend that some Canadian NHL franchises are looking into contingency plans just in case pandemic-related restrictions return to the provinces has rocked the normally celebratory hockey All-Star weekend.
The news broke on Saturday in Las Vegas, site of the All-Star festivities:
NHL Commish Gary Bettman confirmed the rumors. According to the Toronto Star:
The NHL commissioner hinted early in his all-star weekend press conference about “devastating” losses to the seven northern franchises brought on by COVID-19 and then warned that a slow re-opening has prompted some of those teams to ask about moving their games, likely to the United States. And when vice-president Billy Daly said the July draft could go virtual again if Quebec is not allowing team management, picks or crowds into Montreal’s Bell Centre, Bettman indicated he would rather move it.
“In that regard, not surprisingly, a number of Canadian clubs have asked about the possibility of playing their games somewhere else. That’s how troublesome and devastating it is for those clubs.
“It’s not something anybody wants to do or we’re actively encouraging. But if this continues much longer it’s something we may actively consider.”
The Winnipeg Jets recently surveyed their fans about shifting games. The poll question received a 40 percent negative response. It’s not clear where Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal could go to play in the East, but they’re not far from American rinks in the New York City area, Buffalo and Detroit. The Leafs and Senators can soon go back to 50 percent arena capacity later this month and if all goes well, 100 percent by March.
Earlier in his mid-season report to the media, Bettman forecast a huge hit in hockey related revenue linked to COVID, particularly in Canada and its seven teams:
“We respect the (health) procedures, so we are complying. To some extent, it will diminish HRR (which is split with players), but we’ll be in the $5 billion US range, less than we expected in December (when the omicron variant exploded). But it is devastating to the clubs in Canada, even from a competitive standpoint, because they’re not getting (home crowd support).”
We're glad to see contingency plans being made for the NHL. After all, we would rather see hockey played, than no hockey. But let's be clear that moving games south (or anywhere) would be a ridiculous blow to the Canadian clubs. It would upset the already precarious (im)balance between Canada and USA based teams, once again giving absurd advantages to the wealthier, and more stable (in terms of home ice locations) American teams.
Yes, let's hope for the best, but also plan for the worst. And let's also call out the blatant unfairness this policy is to Canadian teams, which could get even worse.