The NHL received an exemption from Canadian health officials allowing cross-border travel for teams starting in the semifinal round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the league announced on Sunday.
When in Canada, teams will be required to stay in a bubble and be tested daily for COVID-19, similar to the tight restrictions that allowed the NHL to stage and complete its playoffs in two hub cities last year. Teams will be assigned designated hotels and have no interaction with the public.
Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s spokesman Alexander Cohen said the decision was made in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada and with approval from the Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba governments.
Cohen said the government will not hesitate to take further action should it be required.
“The National Hockey League is very appreciative of the decision,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement released by the league.
The exemption means the winner of the NHL’s West Division second-round playoff series between Colorado and Vegas will be allowed to travel to face the winner of the North Division second-round series between Winnipeg and Montreal.
The exemption will stay in place in the event Winnipeg or Montreal advances to the Stanley Cup Final.
The NHL was considering having its Canadian-based North Division champion relocate to a temporary home in the U.S. starting in the semifinals.
The border restrictions prevented NHL teams from traveling between the U.S. and Canada during a shortened 56-game regular season. The league was limited to inter-division play only, and led to the creation of a North Division made up of the NHL’s seven Canadian-based franchises.
With few exceptions, travelers entering Canada are required to enter a two-week period of isolation upon arrival.
The restrictions came into effect in March 2020, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic began, and led to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays playing their regular seasons exclusively in the U.S.
The Blue Jays are currently playing out of their Triple-A site in Buffalo, New York, after spending the first two months of the season playing at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida.
This past week, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro left open the possibility of the team returning to Toronto at some point this season. Shapiro, however, cautioned the decision would likely hinge on Canada loosening its border regulations.
Shapiro declined to get into specifics in saying talks between the Blue Jays and Canadian health officials have become more frequent and “certainly more positive” in recent weeks.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.