Hours after announcing plans to have 6,000 fans at home games, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk reversed course on Tuesday as Ontario declared a second provincial emergency due to COVID-19.
"I've submitted a robust public safety plan that will allow 6,000 fans in the Canadian Tire Centre that includes health protocols ranging from proper physical distancing, rapid testing and mask-wearing at all times inside the arena," Menlyk said in a since-deleted tweet.
That proclamation landed just as the Ontario government issued a stay-at-home order beginning on Jan. 14 "in response to a doubling in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, the real and looming threat of the collapse of the province's hospital system and alarming risks posed to long-term care homes as a result of high COVID-19 transmission rates."
Three hours after his initial statement, Melynk published a clarification on his personal website. While it didn't specifically mention the "6,000 fan" plan, it stated that the Ottawa Senators "are committed to continuing the development of a plan that allows fans to safely enjoy NHL hockey in-person -- but only when the time is right. That time is not now."
Melnyk said he will not attend opening night for the first time since he purchased the team in 2003.
Currently, the NHL has only three teams that have opened their arenas to fans for the 2020-21 season, which starts on Jan. 13. The Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers will all have limited capacity crowds at home games. Teams like the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators expect to have groups of first responders and family members in the arena for their first home games.