Months of talk and planning. Weeks of negotiations and effort will culminate in decisions and a path forward, this week. The Pittsburgh Penguins and the rest of the hockey world will get their travel orders and a schedule. Hub cities will be selected. The NHL Draft Lottery will take place on Friday and the NHL must begin to finalize their quarantine plans for players in those hubs.
It all comes to a head this week. No pressure, NHL.
This weekend, the New York Post via national writer Larry Brooks took their turn dropping the big scoop. Brooks reported teams would report to their hub city on July 23 or 24, play one preseason game, and be ready for Phase 4 games beginning on July 30.
However, the hub cities have not yet been named. And the fun is just beginning upon where hockey will be played.
Last week, multiple published reports indicated the NHL had tabbed Las Vegas as one hub city. However, that was before parts of the U.S. experienced smaller spikes of COVID-19 virus. Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, reported over 1700 new cases last week, according to data published by the New York Times.
That number represents a significant spike. However, the silver lining is hospitalizations from the virus have remained constant or slightly declined, overall. That’s your call if the glass is half full or half empty, but 1700 new cases are probably enough to give the NHL-NHLPA decision-makers reason to rethink their choice.
Reports indicate the NHL removed four cities from hub contention but didn’t name them. All three Canadian cities on the original list, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto are still on the list of the possible spots. It is unknown if Pittsburgh is still on the list, but low COVID-19 rates likely mean it is.
Late in the week, TSN radio reporter Satiar Shah tweeted Vancouver’s stock as a hub city was rising.
Vancouver has picked up steam as being a NHL hub city, the league is getting closer to making a decision
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) June 20, 2020
I don’t see how the NHL could have two west coast hubs. That would mean oddly timed games or Eastern Conference games at 10 p.m. No, I don’t think many fans want 10 p.m. games. With a west hub and an east hub, the NHL could schedule four consecutive games. With two western hubs, that doesn’t work. Imagine a 1 p.m and 7 p.m. playoff games. For TV, that means the possibility of Pittsburgh Penguins games or other NHL playoff games at 4 p.m and 10 p.m. on the television.
Doesn’t it make more sense for an eastern and western hub to play 1 p.m and 7 p.m. games, which means hockey on TV, all day?
The NHL urged players not already part of Phase 2 voluntary workouts to report to their hockey homes. Dozens of players not already in the voluntary camps will report this week. That means teams will also test players, perhaps for the first time.
In other words, prepare for more positive tests. The NHL deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, told our associates at Boston Hockey Now, the NHL is braced for more, and they will not halt the process unless things change for the worse.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have not released a list of players currently participating in Phase 2 voluntary workouts. Based on social media accounts and selected media availabilities, the Penguins leaders, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel, are in camp.