According to an internal document shared with NHL teams earlier this week, the league believes that 30 of its 32 teams will have full-capacity crowds during the 2021-22 season, multiple outlets reported Thursday.
The two teams not expected to allow sellout crowds during the upcoming season are the Vancouver Canucks and the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canucks could see an estimated 50 per cent of home seats filled at Rogers Arena, which normally accommodates 18,910 fans. The Canadiens plan to open at 33 per cent of the club’s 21,302 capacity at the Bell Centre.
In addition to crowd projections, the league’s memo reportedly described the anticipated vaccine guidelines for all the franchises.
Ten teams plan to require fans to show proof of vaccination only: the Buffalo Sabres, Calgary Flames, Canadiens, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, Toronto Maple Leafs, Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.
Fans attending eight other teams’ home arenas will be able to attend games with either proof of vaccination or evidence of a negative COVID-19 test: the Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues.
As of this week’s policies, 14 other teams will not require fans to show copies of vaccination or negative COVID tests – although some or all of those teams could alter plans before the start of the season. Those teams are the Arizona Coyotes, Carolina Hurricanes, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals.
In addition, 11 of the NHL’s 32 franchises will not mandate that fans wear masks for entrance – with the Ducks only requiring unvaccinated fans to sport masks.
The intention to clear full crowds for five of the seven Canadian teams was met with criticism from some in the medical community. In addition to questioning if a proof-of-vaccination card was legitimate enough for fans to gain entry, an infectious disease expert in Edmonton believes the move to big crowds was a recipe for serious trouble.
“On one hand, we have our health-care system in complete crisis and about to crumble,” Dr. Noel Gibney told Global News in Alberta. “But at the same time, life is pretending to go on as normal.”
Another doctor, emergency-room physician Shazma Mithani in Edmonton, termed packed arenas a “terrible idea.”
“One look at the state of our health-care system – should we really be having thousands and thousands of people in an indoor stadium yelling and drinking beer when our health-care system is at the brink of collapse?” Mithani said to the Global News.
“When we’re asking for help from the federal government, from the Canadian military, from other provinces in order to help our crumbling health-care system because of how bad COVID has gotten?”
Regarding players, last week NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told several media outlets that the league projects 98 per cent of its players will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by opening night of the 2021-22 season on Oct. 12.
Unlike players, NHL coaches are required to receive a vaccine.