NHL teams are taking different approaches to crossing the Canada-US border in the first round of the playoffs, with the United States still requiring a negative COVID-19 test for all passengers arriving on international flights.
The Edmonton Oilers flew to Vancouver and took buses in Washington state before flying to Los Angeles to avoid US virus testing requirements, and the Toronto Maple Leafs took bus to Buffalo, New York, before flying to Florida for the same reason. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames all opted to test and fly straight when their respective series moved from Canada to the United States this weekend.
Choose Your Own Travel Adventure has become the latest pandemic wrinkle in the Stanley Cup fight. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL made no specific recommendations, but had no problem with the creative arrangements.
“We have no objection or problem with them using the rules and policies that have been put in place by the relevant health authorities to their maximum advantage,” Daly said in an email Friday.
The situation is nothing like the past two years when cross-border travel was a major headache for the NHL. In 2020, the league held a 24-team postseason in Toronto and Edmonton with strict quarantines in place and no fans. Last year, amid uncertainty surrounding border restrictions, the league temporarily realigned its divisions for a shortened season, with Canada’s seven teams only playing in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said the players were involved in choosing the route for what amounted to a longer trip. The Oilers stayed one night at a hotel in Vancouver before crossing the border and flying out of Bellingham, Wash., to California on Thursday ahead of Game 3 against the Kings on Friday night.
“I think what you want to do is you want to make the best decision possible for your group and that’s a decision that we’ve given a lot of thought to,” Woodcroft said. “Players are energized by the way we’ve traveled and the California sunshine.”
The Oilers have the only unvaccinated player in the NHL playoffs: Josh Archibald, whose cardiologist was able to secure a medical exemption for the 29-year-old forward due to a heart condition known as myocarditis. Archibald only played eight games during the regular season, but he’s available in the playoffs on either side of the border and was in the lineup for Game 2 when Edmonton tied their series against the Kings.
The Maple Leafs’ trip to Buffalo only lasted a few hours before flying to Florida. It’s the same path the NBA’s Toronto Raptors took in their first-round series against Philadelphia.
The Lightning, Kings, Stars and Flames all chose COVID-19 tests and a direct flight to enter the United States
“We didn’t take a bus across the border,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Friday before Game 3 against Toronto. “Everyone passed the tests.”
With reports from The Canadian Press.
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