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NHL preparing to adjust Stanley Cup playoffs if needed

A general view of the empty arena as the Arizona Coyotes play the Colorado Avalanche during the first period in Game One of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 12, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick).
A general view of the empty arena as the Arizona Coyotes play the Colorado Avalanche during the first period in Game One of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 12, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick). (Getty Images)

The NHL is preparing to adjust playoff contingency plans if virus restrictions in Canada prevent travel between provinces or back and forth to the U.S.

“Where we play is going to depend on COVID, obviously -- we hope to keep everybody healthy -- and it’s going to depend on government regulations in terms of where we’re going to be able to travel our players and our teams and where we can’t,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday. “If we can’t travel in Canada, either as among the provinces or from the U.S. to Canada and back, we’ll make whatever adjustments we have to do to get the playoffs completed.”

Bettman called the situation “wildly unpredictable” and one that changes daily. The NHL kicked the can down the road on cross-border travel by having all seven Canadian teams play in the same division for the entire regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs.

The first time a Canadian team would need to play a counterpart in the U.S. would be in June, though there has been speculation about the first two rounds of the North Division playoffs happening in a quarantined bubble.

Canada has so far lagged behind in vaccinating people against COVID-19 compared to the U.S. Canada has fully vaccinated 2.71% of people, while the U.S. is just under 29%.

That disparity has prevented the NHL from relaxing virus protocols for teams that reach a certain threshold of vaccination, which is the case with the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball that currently have all teams playing in the U.S.