All of the tarps were back as the Toronto Maple Leafs hosted the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. It was an eerie reminder of the 2020-21 season with no fans and only Canadian teams playing in Toronto. Meanwhile, just a couple hundred kilometres south of the border, arenas and stadiums are full for sporting events. There is a simple solution to address the NHL’s issue and a looming problem for the Maple Leafs – move the home games to Buffalo.
If the sight of those tarps wasn’t bad enough, the NHL announced during the game that another Toronto home game is postponed. The NHL postponed Toronto’s game against the New Jersey Devils for Jan. 17, citing the decision was made “due to current attendance restrictions in certain Canadian cities.” If that is the case, then the League should’ve announced the postponement of the Jan. 26 game against the Anaheim Ducks as well. Unfortunately, it’s improbable there will be fans back in Scotiabank Arena by the end of the month.
NHL Postpones More Canadian Games
A spike in COVID cases and hospitalizations resulted in the Ontario government bringing back several restrictions the province has been dealing with on-and-off for the last two years, including no fans at Maple Leafs’ games. As a result, Toronto has nine games that they must make up later. While that number continues to grow, Toronto must consider other options to ensure a jam-packed schedule does not disrupt their successful season.
If and when the Ducks game is delayed, Toronto will have ten games to make up during the two weeks initially slotted for the Olympics. That’s practically a game every other day, but it also must include a three-game west coast swing to make up for the home game postponements of the Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames. That breakneck plan would then roll directly into the original schedule already crammed because of the once scheduled Olympics break.
Maple Leafs of Buffalo
The simple solution would be moving Toronto home games to Buffalo. It’s just 300 kilometres away, and since Toronto fans can’t watch their team on home ice, they are not missing a game; it allows them to go across the border and watch their team in person. Let’s not forget that Buffalo was the home of the Toronto Blue Jays last year while the border was closed.
Jan. 17 vs New Jersey in Buffalo
The Buffalo Sabres, which are not drawing very many fans, play at 1 p.m. on Jan. 17 against the Detroit Red Wings. That means the ice will be ready to go by the Maple Leafs take on the Devils at 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 vs Anaheim in Buffalo
The solution gets even easier for the schedule maker for the Jan. 26 game against Anaheim. The Sabres are not scheduled to play that day. Buffalo’s KeyBank Center is empty from Jan. 22 to Jan. 27 when Disney on Ice starts, which means perhaps there is another postponed game that could fit in that window.
Maple Leafs Need to Play
The Maple Leafs are undoubtedly sick of practice; the more postponements, the more exercises and downtime. The downtime the team will be in desperate need of later when the make-up games are wedged into the schedule. Had the NHL been more forward-thinking, it could’ve scheduled the Jan. 6 home game against the Montreal Canadiens to Buffalo as well. The Sabres play that night but, Jan. 7 is open, and Montreal plays the Sabres on Jan. 8. That means plenty of Montreal fans could’ve made the trip to watch their Habs play twice.
If the NHL continues to penalize Canadian teams for restrictions that are out of their control, then the League must be more creative in their thinking and willing to accommodate the teams. Finally, if this is really about attendance, how have the Arizona Coyotes not been postponed for years? Asking for a friend.
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Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.