Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators now among six Canadian NHL teams allowed to play at home

Ontario became the fourth Canadian province to officially give the green light for its NHL teams to play in home arenas this season, joining Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.

Six of the seven Canadian NHL teams have now received clearance to host home games.

With the NHL season starting in six days, only Manitoba has yet to give the formal approval for Winnipeg Jets to play home games. Dr. Jazz Atwal, the acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, told the Canadian Press on Wednesday that he is "confident things will move ahead as planned."

As part of their agreement with the NHL, health provinces have asked that prominent NHL players appear in social media and ad campaigns promoting provincial protocols and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.

In announcing Ontario's decision on Wednesday to allow the Maple Leafs and Senators play home games, Lisa MacLeod, the Minister of Heritage Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, said the province granted approval "after close scrutiny of the rigorous health and safety protocols that will be adopted."

"I look forward to continued work with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators on a public relations campaign to warn Ontarians against the spread of COVID-19 and to rebuild confidence in minor sports post-pandemic," she said.

The NHL is beginning its abridged, 56-game season on Jan. 13. The league temporarily re-aligned into four divisions -- including an all-Canadian division, necessitated by the U.S. and Canada border remaining closed to nonessential travel. The entire regular season, and the first round of the playoffs, will be entirely divisional play.

NHL players and team staffers are being tested for COVID-19 daily throughout training camp and the first four weeks of the season. After that, the NHL and NHL Players' Association will reevaluate with infectious disease experts and determine whether they can move to an every-other-day cadence.

The NHL clamped down on where teams are allowed to travel as well. On road trips, players are only permitted to go to the rink and hotel (where all meals would be served). No bars, restaurants or retail stores are allowed. Players each get their own hotel room, which means no more road roommates, at least for this season.

Teams are only allowed to practice at NHL-sanctioned arenas or practice facilities; no teams are allowed to use rinks owned by third parties, and practices are not open to the public. Teams are asked to conduct meetings virtually, to the greatest extent possible, and if there are meetings (video sessions, staff-only meetings, etc.) they are instructed to occur with "strict physical distancing in place."