NHL provides clearance to players wishing to return home amid COVID-19 outbreak

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 12: Sam Hess, Operations with Monumental Sports & Entertainment, skates alone prior Detroit Red Wings playing against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on March 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. Today the NHL announced is has suspended their season due to the uncertainty of the coronavirus (COVID-19) with hopes of returning. The NHL currently joins the NBA, MLS, as well as, other sporting events and leagues around the world suspending play because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The NHL suspended play because of the coronavirus outbreak on March 12. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Perhaps a sign that the original restart timetables were overly optimistic after the NHL initially shut down its operations amid the coronavirus outbreak, the league has issued clearance to players wishing to return to their homes — no matter their native country — in order to continue to self-isolate with families under preferred or more ideal conditions.

As of roughly 48 hours before the advisory, the NHL had reportedly not made a decision on player movement, and instructed its employees to wait on crossing any borders. It’s no guarantee, of course, that certain players will find the means to return home as countries up their security measures in an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, but the option has been granted.

According to the NHL’s statement, the expectation is that players will continue to quarantine themselves through until at least March 27 in current or new isolated areas, while reporting any symptoms to their medical staffs. Return-to-train scenarios will be re-evaluated no earlier than the end of this isolation period, but it is entirely possible that it will be extended well beyond the current parameters.

Part of that consideration will include taking the first step toward resuming the season by re-opening training facilities for coordinated workouts. Until then, the NHL has outlined the 45-day mark in the 60-day moratorium outlined by the CDC as the target for officially opening in-season training camps.

That means official league activity will be on pause until at least mid-to-late April.

It’s increasingly difficult to believe that the NHL will not have a significantly diminished regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs. Assuming, that is, that it has the opportunity to complete its season in the first place.

Canada restricts border travel

With the Canadian government encouraging citizens to return home and the NHL now green-lighting players’ desires to travel back to be with loved ones, more athletes will have the ability to freely cross borders.

For some, though, the process of re-entering Canada might be tricky.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday that Canada will now heavily restrict border travel in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, shutting down access to non-Canadians or out-of-country Canadians showing symptoms.

Interestingly, the border shutdown will for the time-being exclude U.S. citizens due to the “deep integration” between the neighbouring countries. While that won’t impact a large percentage of NHL players, it might be the difference for a few hockey players looking to return to where they call home.

Canucks staffer tests positive for COVID-19

To this point, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among players, coaches and training staffs across the NHL, but has been a scare in the Vancouver Canucks organization.

It was announced Monday that a staff member of Canucks Sports & Entertainment had tested positive for the virus, and was feeling better in self-quarantine.

Public Heath Authority in British Columbia deemed that the risk level was low because the individual did not have a “front-facing” role, and was not recently in contact with players, hockey operations, event staff or fans.

Canucks Sports & Entertainment closed its offices Monday, and continues to follow precautions outlined by health authorities.

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