Written by Chris Kubala
The NHL continues to try and figure out their two hub cities for their expected return to the ice in the coming weeks. Training camps, also known as Phase 3 of the Return to Play Initiative, are scheduled to open on July 10 with the actual return to play, also known as Phase 4, is slated to begin around July 30 with the start of the qualifying round. Those matchups in the qualifying round featuring the teams currently seeded fifth through 12th in each conference will be best-of-five series. The top four teams in each conference will meet up in a round-robin tournament to determine the seeding for the postseason. Each of the remaining rounds are slated to be best-of-seven series.
There were about a dozen cities originally in the mix to be a hub city for the league. Entering this week, the league had cut the field to 10 but they’ve been aggressively paring the field down this week. On Monday, Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul were culled from the field, leaving eight cities in the mix. Just 24 hours later, the league chopped both Dallas and Pittsburgh from the mix, cutting the field down to six cities. Thursday, the league lost another potential contender and possible frontrunner from the field.
It was announced that Vancouver was dropping out of the field, leaving three cities in the United States and two in Canada in the running to be a host city for the league’s restart. Canucks Sports and Entertainment chief operating officer Trent Carroll, in his statement about the situation, had this to say:
"From the beginning, our goal was to help the NHL get hockey back on the ice if we could. Although Vancouver won't be a Hub City, we are still excited to see hockey start up again.”
Reports say that there was a disconnect between the provincial government in British Columbia and the league itself when it came to how a positive test for COVID-19 would be dealt with in relation to a team. British Columbia has strict isolation policies for positive tests and are aggressive with contact tracing on positive cases. TSN reported that Bonnie Henry, a health officer in the province, felt that a positive test should mandate a playoff series to be paused. Meanwhile the league stands by their concept that a player that tests positive would be removed from the series but that things would continue nonetheless.
During an interview, Adrian Dix, who is the health minister for British Columbia, had this to say about the matter:
"Vancouver, and anybody who's paying any attention at all knows, that it is the best possible place for them to come because we enforce public health rules in British Columbia thoroughly and completely. I love the NHL. I love the idea of hockey coming here, but I'm also the minister of health, and the players, and the fans, and those working in the arenas, and everyone in British Columbia expects the rules to apply to everybody. And that's our advantage in this, it's not a disadvantage in this."
British Columbia’s strict rules about people who test positive for COVID-19 has been pretty successful when it comes to maintaining a manageable case load. On Wednesday, only 19 people tested positive for the coronavirus and just 15 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the province, which has more than five million people. By comparison, Florida reported 8,942 new cases on Friday alone, setting a new one-day record for the state.
While Vancouver will miss out on the potential economic windfall of having the NHL play several rounds of postseason games there, the fact that they are focused on the best interests of their population is something that should be applauded. Instead of chasing the money, the city, and the province, are looking for what is best for the good of the general public as opposed to trying to fill the coffers and roll the dice that things don’t go south. As for the league, they still have Las Vegas, Chicago plus Los Angeles in the United States along with Toronto and Edmonton as Canadian cities that could get the call. We could find out in the next day or so where the league will be playing their postseason in, so stay tuned.