Even in the midst of surging cases of COVID-19 across the U.S., the NHL isn't straying from its initial “Return To Play” plan — with full training camps slated to get underway on July 10.
Beyond that, Phase 4 — the return of scheduled games and the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs — lies just a few weeks beyond training camp, with July 30 tossed around as a potential starting date for the transition toward live hockey games for the first time in months.
That’s all well and good — if not a bit optimistic — but one rather sizable hurdle remains a little over a month out from a resumption of play.
Where exactly are these 24 teams going when the league gives the green light to drop the puck once again this year?
Even though the NHL announced last month its plan to funnel its remaining clubs to a pair of neutral-site “hub cities” to close out the season, we still haven’t received much in terms of official word on where the Bruins and many other clubs will be packing their bags for in a little over a month.
On Tuesday afternoon, we did receive a bit of additional clarity as the league looks to make an official call in the coming days — with Pierre LeBrun reporting that the league had narrowed the list of “hub city” candidates down to just six remaining locations:
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul were both taken out of the running on Monday, while the NHL also ruled out Pittsburgh and Dallas on Tuesday.
With multiple venues still likely in the running, the NHL has plenty of factors to juggle in the coming days when it comes to assessing these sites — whether it be available ice, game locations, lodging, entertainment for players and most importantly, health and safety.
Here’s a look at the six hub cities that the NHL is still considering, and the case each location makes for hosting playoff hockey in the coming weeks.
A frontrunner throughout this vetting process, Vegas seems to still be the odds-on favorite if the NHL opts to have at least one hub city in the U.S. In fact, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported earlier this month that the NHL was preparing to pick Sin City as a location — with MGM Resorts International planning on keeping some hotels off-limits from the general populace in order to keep them available for NHL clubs.
At first glance, Vegas does make plenty of sense for both the NHL and its players — all of whom are likely going to be stuck in a “bubble” environment for months once Phase 4 gets underway. Along with the ample amount of hotel rooms available in such a small area — many of which are within walking distance of T-Mobile Arena — there are plenty of entertainment options available (golf courses, restaurants, etc.) to keep players entertained during these lockdown conditions.
Even if Las Vegas isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed, T-Mobile Arena is regarded as one of the top facilities in the NHL, while other venues such as City National Arena in Summerlin and two other rinks can be utilized across the metro area.
Still, even if players might be game for spending a few months in Sin City, it’s tough to ignore the rising number of cases of COVID-19 sprouting up in Nevada and across the Southwestern U.S.
While the expectation is for players to be completely sealed off once Phase 4 gets underway, the concerns of ramping up play in a COVID-19 hotspot still can (and should) create some reservations for both the league and players
Ultimately, from a strictly safety standpoint, the NHL’s best bet would likely be to host both hubs north of the border up in Canada. However, if the NHL can successfully pitch to the NHLPA that the “bubble” environment can be easily managed — and sealed off from the rest of the population — odds are that the league opts to set up one of its camps just off The Strip.
Sure, it may not have the flash and panache that Vegas or even a city like Vancouver boasts, but don't sleep on Edmonton and what this venue could provide the NHL in terms of suitable venues and above all else — safety.