BUFFALO, N.Y. — NHL teams are taking different approaches to crossing the U.S.-Canada border during the first round of the playoffs with the U.S. still requiring a negative COVID-19 test for all passengers arriving on international flights.
The Edmonton Oilers flew to Vancouver and took buses into Washington state before flying to Los Angeles to avoid U.S. virus testing requirements, and the Toronto Maple Leafs took buses 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 direct when their respective series shifted from Canada to the United States late this week.
Choose your own travel adventure has become the latest pandemic wrinkle to the fight for the Stanley Cup. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL did not make any particular recommendations but has no problem with the creative arrangements.
“We have no objection or issue with them utilizing the rules and policies that have been put in place by the applicable 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, facing uncertainty over border restrictions, the league temporarily realigned its divisions for a shortened season, with all seven Canadian teams playing only each other through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said players were involved in choosing the itinerary for what amounted to a longer trip. The Oilers spent a night in a Vancouver hotel before crossing the border and flying from Bellingham, Washington, 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 was one that we gave a lot of thought to,” Woodcroft said. “The players are energized by how we traveled and being in 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 because of a heart condition known as myocarditis. Archibald played in only eight games during the regular season but is available in the playoffs on either side of the border and was in the lineup for Game 2 when Edmonton evened its series against the Kings.
The Maple Leafs' trip to Buffalo took only a couple of hours before flying to Florida. It's the same path the NBA's Toronto Raptors took during their first-round series against Philadelphia.
The Lightning, Kings, Stars, and Flames all chose COVID-19 testing and a direct flight to enter the United States.
“We didn’t cross the border by bus,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Friday before Game 3 against Toronto. “Everybody passed the tests.”