NHL Closing In on Naming Hub Cities Ahead of Phase 3 of Return to Play Initiative
The NHL is expected to restart their season next month after being on pause for more than four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase 3 of their return to play plan is expected to begin on July 10 with Phase 4, the actual return to play, scheduled for the end of the month. Of course, the NHLPA still has to vote in favor of that, along with the potential hub cities that the 24 teams (12 in each conference) would convene to play the expanded postseason in order to crown a champion.
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen the field go from 10 potential choices for hub cities to half of that. Last week, we saw Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul get trimmed from the field on Monday. That was followed by the elimination of Dallas and Pittsburgh from the list of options on Tuesday. Then, on Thursday, Vancouver, considered a frontrunner for one of the hub cities, removed themselves from consideration. The city, along with the British Columbian government, is interested in maintaining the health of the general public and their residents as opposed to chasing the economic impact, which is the sound choice.
According to Bob McKenzie of TSN, the league has apparently narrowed the field of cities to be hub cities to four. He states that the league has narrowed to Las Vegas and Chicago as cities in the U.S. along with Edmonton and Toronto in Canada. That would have eliminated Los Angeles from contention as a hub city, which may not come as a complete surprise given the sudden resurgence of things relating to the coronavirus in the state of California.
To further that thought process, Arthur Staple from The Athletic has stated that it appears that Las Vegas and Toronto are the frontrunners for the hub cities. In addition, the thought process is that Western Conference teams under that scenario would report to Las Vegas while the Eastern Conference teams would play in Toronto. Seeing that Toronto is the only city that has an Eastern Conference team left in the running, it would seem extremely viable that it would be a hub city at this stage. While the Maple Leafs are in the qualifying round against Columbus and would be playing in their home arena, the home ice advantage isn’t really a factor when there is no crowd to provide support. The same factor would come into play in whichever Western Conference city is tabbed.
One of the big concerns for the league is figuring out the proper health protocols to get things taken care of for the hub cities. After all, 11 cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed previous and on Monday, the league announced that there had been 15 positive tests of the more than 250 players that have been practicing in Phase 2 of the league’s return to play initiative. The league has had plenty of good experiences with the city of Las Vegas, which is why it is still in consideration despite the uptick in COVID-19 cases in Clark County, which is where Vegas is. There are plenty of hotels in the city and the T-Mobile Arena is a state of the art facility.
The expectation is that the league will make a decision in the next couple of days. After all, the expected date for Phase 3 is next Friday, July 10. While that could move slightly, there has been no official statement about that taking place at this point in time. Hopefully, that decision comes sooner rather than later and the league can continue its navigation on what has been a tricky path at this point in time.