The NHL’s list of potential hub cities to host the playoffs had been pared from 10 to five as of Thursday, and the league is expected to announce its preferred pair in the coming days.
Before it names the two cities that will host a reimagined 24-team postseason tournament, let’s consider the pros and cons of the six finalists.
The cities in the running — Chicago, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Toronto — will have to satisfy several criteria. Vancouver was among the front-runners, but it announced Thursday night it was no longer in the running.
First, the league wants to protect the health of approximately 700 people — including players, coaches, staff, management, and executives — who hope to begin this strange playoff journey in early August. The entertainment factor is also critical. The Stanley Cup will have everyone’s attention, but people need other things to do.
The NHL is expected to keep a tight bubble once the postseason begins. That means regular tests for players and staff, and any excursions such as golf trips will be held under strict control to keep players from interacting with the public. Wherever hockey lands this summer, it will not get the run of the city.
The teams will play either a round-robin or play-in segment, then a four-round slugfest, putting the Stanley Cup finalists in this unprecedented bubble for some 10 weeks, much or all of it away from their families. The league wants to make it as enjoyable for them as possible.
When the league rolled out the format last month, it announced it was considering 10 cities. The qualifications, NHL hockey ops head Colin Campbell said at that time, included a “friendly” COVID-19 situation, best-in-class facilities, and adequate hotel space.
Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Pittsburgh have been told they are out of the running.
NHL executives have said they would prefer to have one hub in the US and one in Canada, but the league has compelling reasons to head north.
Canada’s low rate of active cases, compared with the US, means there could be two hub cities up there. The US continues to be one of the world’s least-safe areas, setting a one-day record of 38,672 new cases (seven-day rolling average) on Wednesday, according to the Covid Tracking Project at The Atlantic. The West — home to two of the three American contenders — and South are driving those numbers.
Given the exchange rate, Canadian cities would be more economical. As of Wednesday, one US dollar was worth $1.36 Canadian. And Canada, which banned US border crossings until at least July 21, has relaxed that restriction for the NHL.
But Vegas and Los Angeles have their merits, as do the others (some more than others):
Pros: For the everyman gambler, a 10-week Vegas vacation sounds like the start of a bankruptcy filing. But it could be a smart bet for the NHL … Checks every box from an accommodations and entertainment standpoint. Luxury resorts and spas, elite restaurants, great golf (and Topgolf, a favorite of younger NHLers), every casino game imaginable, and sportsbooks hot with games from other restarted leagues … NHL could create a tight bubble within one of the major hotel/casinos with indoor amenities … New, spacious facilities in T-Mobile Arena and several practice rinks in the area … Some gorgeous sunrises and sunsets … Twelve teams’ worth of NHL players at a hockey Olympic village in Vegas. Imagine the stories that will come out of this.
Cons: Not corona-free, by any means … Clark County on Wednesday had a rolling seven-day average of 290 cases, up from 142 two weeks ago. Also, Governor Steve Sisolak mandated that masks must be worn in public after cases rose for four straight weeks … Some of the city would be off-limits ... Some casinos reopened earlier this month, but as of Wednesday the city had yet to initiate Phase 3 of its reopening, so nightclubs are still closed … Often above 100 degrees in the summer, but it’s a dry heat and pleasant at night.
Pros: State-of-the-art Rogers Place has an attached practice facility and so much space that visiting goalies are shuttled by cart between the ice surfaces. Easy to be 6 feet apart there … Enough hotel space downtown, including an excellent J.W. Marriott attached to the rink, with a pro-quality fitness center … Casino next to the rink ... Weather is friendly this time of year, even if the mosquitoes aren’t … Local golf courses are attractive, though they’re better down the road in Calgary … On Tuesday, the Alberta government reported 236 active COVID-19 cases in the Edmonton zone.
Cons: Few would pick Edmonton’s cuisine over Toronto’s, its natural beauty over Vancouver’s, or its nightlife over any of the other contenders … It’s the smallest of the contenders. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Pros: Canada’s most populous city (more than 5.4 million people) has a range of entertainment options and ample ice space … Like most metropolises, a fantastic food city … The home of the Maple Leafs was the host for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. “We dealt with various practice rinks, dealt with various hotels, dealt with [Scotiabank Arena], dealt with various dressing rooms, dealt with all the issues that we’re going to have to deal with, so that’s a step up that Toronto has,” Campbell said. “Plus it’s a 70-cent dollar, there are a number of restaurants in that square there, a number of five-star hotels within shouting distance, so Toronto has a number of excellent pluses on their side to be one of the hub centers.”
Cons: Has a greater number of COVID-19 cases than its Canadian counterparts. As of Wednesday, the city reported 14,029 confirmed cases, and is currently averaging 62 new cases per day over a rolling seven-day period … Zealous Toronto media would test the strength of NHL’s quarantine bubble.
Pros: The league might be able to take over LA Live, the area around the Staples Center. Bars, clubs, and restaurants abound … Maybe the players could vote on which artists would play the concert venues (the guess here: country acts) … No complaints about the sunny California weather … Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo isn’t nearby, but is nice enough.
Cons: California is one of the current COVID-19 hot spots. Case numbers are rising in most counties across the state. In Los Angeles County, the seven-day average was 1,883, up from 1,261 two weeks ago … Much of the area could be off-limits to the league ... LA traffic not as serious COVID-19, but more annoying than the common cold.
Pros: Player-approved road destination … Lots of highly rated hotels, and few equals leaguewide in the restaurant, nightlife, and comedy departments … Lots of bells and whistles at newer practice facility located a half-mile from the United Center. Even has a rooftop event space … On Friday, Chicago plans to enter Phase 4 of 5 in its reopening, meaning limited indoor dining, museums and performance venues with limited capacity, and larger gathering sizes.
Cons: Bit of a drive from the Downtown Loop hotels to the United Center … Would be strange to not hear a packed arena cheering the national anthem, as belted by Jim Cornelison’s stirring tenor … To keep the bubble intact, players may not get to enjoy much of the Riverwalk and Lake Michigan. Maybe team yacht parties would be en vogue … The NHL loves its golf, and Chicago lacks on the links. Lushest tracks are well outside the city and local Topgolf is all the way out in Schaumburg, a 90-minute round trip … Other cities would gripe about home of the Blackhawks, seemingly always on national TV, landing yet another prime NHL event.