NHL Looking North of Border for Hub Cities in Planned Return to Play
The NHL has continued to try and work out all the particulars for their return to play later this month. It’s going to be a transition for the league, which hasn’t played since March 12 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and is diligently working to get back on the ice and crown a champion. Gary Bettman and the league is attempting to cut into what would be at least a $1 billion shortfall in revenue if they were unable to take to the ice this summer. We’ve seen the field pared from 10 potential hub cities over the last week to 10 days and it seems as if a decision about which two cities will be the winners of that convoluted mess are ready to be named.
According to Bob McKenzie of TSN, barring some last-minute change of heart, that both hub cities will come from north of the border. Should that come to fruition, it would make for a very happy Canada Day for fans of the sport that reside in the country.
McKenzie states that unless things change, the hub cities for the restart will be Edmonton and Toronto. Toronto makes sense as a hub as they have proven that they can function in that capacity, having held the World Cup of Hockey in 2016 and several World Junior Championships over recent years. There is no shortage of ice or hotels in the area, while Scotiabank Arena, home of the Maple Leafs, is a terrific facility. Edmonton just unveiled their new, state of the art practice facility, which is connected to Rogers Place and a 650-room five-star hotel. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said last month that he couldn’t imagine a better place for a hub city than Edmonton.
“There is no safer place in North America to do this than Edmonton. Edmonton has the lowest level of COVID-19 infections of any major city in North America, certainly lower than any other NHL city. And plus, the [Oilers'] facility is like it was purpose-built for this strange scenario. You have the most modern, newest, high-tech rink ink the NHL, which was voted the second-best surface by the NHLPA. They voted it as the best visitor team experience in the entire league. And attached to it is another NHL-sized ice surface in the community tink. All of this is an enclosed area, attached to a brand new five-star hotel, and another hotel, between them 650 rooms. I just cannot imagine any other city having that perfect purpose-built infrastructure to support the league."
Las Vegas was long considered to be a distant leader for a hub city only to see a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, both in the state in general and the city in particular. That seemed to take some of the luster off the potential to play there. The state of Nevada had recorded its five highest reported new case numbers in the last week. As of Tuesday, there were 18,456 cases of coronavirus in the Silver State. Meanwhile, Chicago, the other city that was still in the mix, is reported to have 52,354 cases as of Tuesday, which is more than six times the 8,108 that have been diagnosed in the entire province of Alberta.
The original concept was going to be that the Eastern Conference teams would play in a Western Conference city and vice versa in order to prevent any team from having a proverbial home-ice advantage. That seems to have changed in recent weeks, with Elliotte Friedman saying last week that the Eastern Conference teams should play in Toronto and the Western Conference teams playing in Vegas, which at the time was the top choice. In addition, Michael Russo reiterated that fact Wednesday. It realistically makes the most sense as it limits the travel that teams have to make going to a hub city that is closer to their respective home bases.
If all goes well, the vote by the players for return to play phases 3 and 4 could come as soon as this weekend. One only hopes that things proceed and we get back to having teams on the ice for meaningful games again in the next few weeks.