It was only fitting that Wednesday was Canada Day, as a report indicated that the National Hockey League will choose two Canadian cities to host its return to play later this summer.
Edmonton and Toronto will be the NHL’s two hub cities, “barring any last-minute complications,” TSN reported.
The choices won’t be finalized until the players vote on the final return-to-play plan, which includes health and safety protocols related to COVID-19.
Seven American cities — Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh — were in the running early on, yet none of them were selected. Vancouver also was a contender.
Las Vegas was viewed as a front-runner for weeks. “Sin City” also tried to land the NBA’s and the WNBA’s restarts. Instead, the city came up empty. New coronavirus cases spiked in recent days in Nevada —- as well as other parts of the U.S. — while they have been on the decline in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month the Canadian government was “open” to hosting one or both NHL hub cities as long as local governments and health authorities approved the plans.
That will include requiring the country to exempt NHL players and team staff from its current closed-border policy. The Canada-U.S. border is closed to non-essential travel through at least July 21.
The NHL’s plan called for two hub cities so each city could host one conference. It was not immediately clear whether the Eastern Conference, including the Washington Capitals, would play in Toronto or Edmonton. Commissioner Gary Bettman has hinted that the league would want to avoid “perceived” advantages of a team getting to play in their home market, and both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers will participate in the return-to-play plan.
Games in Toronto would be held in the Maple Leafs’ home, Scotiabank Arena, with nearby Coca-Cola Coliseum an option for practice ice. The Oilers’ Rogers Place would host games in Edmonton, and the arena is attached by skyway to a hotel where the players could be housed.
While not as attractive a destination as Toronto and Vancouver on paper, Edmonton reportedly made a “lifestyle presentation” to the NHL that promised, as part of its bubble, a golf course for NHL players to use on their days off. The city’s proposal also included the idea of arranging an Olympic village-esque area downtown with other amenities.
The NHL is planning to move into Phase 3 with formal training camps on July 10, and it has not released a return-to-play schedule of games, slipping behind the NBA and Major League Baseball in that regard. Both basketball and baseball will begin play in late July.
Sportsnet and TSN also reported Wednesday that in collective bargaining negotiations, the NHLPA has requested that players once again be allowed to compete in the Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026. The league decided not to let its players participate in 2018.