It seems only fitting we could get an announcement that the Stanley Cup will be awarded on Canadian soil on July 1, Canada Day. Naming the NHL hub cities is not the last step in the process of the 24-team NHL return, but it was one of the biggest. The NHL appears to have selected their two hub cities for the return to play Phase 4 games scheduled to begin in the final days of July. And both cities will be Canadian.
Edmonton and Toronto appeared primed as the final choices, as TSN Insider Bob McKenzie reported it is all but a done deal. The cities will host the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and NHL playoffs as the NHL hub cities in the Phase 4 games.
Of course, nothing is final until the ink is dry.
As widely rumored, Toronto’s bid will be successful, and its bid surpassed the other eight other proposals from cities such as Pittsburgh, Columbus, Los Angeles, and Vancouver.
However, Edmonton was a late substitution as Las Vegas became a scratch due to a spike in new Coronavirus cases. Las Vegas has been averaging nearly 700 cases per day after the past week.
Last week, Vancouver was a favorite, but safety regulations undid their candidacy in a matter of hours.
NHL Phase 3 training camps will begin on July 10. The NHL scheduled Phase 4 games starting on July 29. The league will station 12 teams in each of the NHL hub cities for the 24-team tournament. After debate, the NHL will place the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto. The league will put the Western Conference teams in Edmonton.
The league was concerned about two teams having home-ice advantage, but time zone issues and a lack of fans in the building quelled worries of home-ice benefits.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will begin their quest for the 2020 Stanley Cup in the Qualifying Round against the Montreal Canadiens. The winner will advance to Round One of the NHL Playoffs. The loser will have a chance at the top overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Penguins could have a chance at the top overall pick because the first phase of the NHL Draft Lottery was on Friday, and a placeholder team won the first overall pick. Since the Qualifying Round is not officially the NHL playoffs, the loser will be eligible for the second phase of the NHL Draft Lottery. The eight Qualifying Round losers have an equal 12.5% chance to be “Team A.”
The ultimately failed Las Vegas bid was crafted by MGM Resorts, which owns multiple resorts within walking distance of T-Mobile Arena. The resorts include private housing, golf, restaurants, and other posh amenities. It was considered a lock for weeks, until the recent spike.
One problem likely stemmed from the high number of casino employees who contracted COVID-19 in recent weeks. Those employees would have been the same ones taking care of the NHL teams.
An outbreak among players would assuredly shutdown the return to play.
Toronto’s bid includes a bubble city on the CNE grounds (Canadian National Exhibition). The 40-acre bubble city will grant players access to the Toronto Raptors practice facility, unlimited access to the Toronto Marlies rink, outdoor movies, restaurant catering, and additional perks.
The Canadian government relaxed quarantine rules to allow the NHL to make Toronto a hub city. Initially, the government rules mandated arriving players from other countries, including the U.S. quarantine, for an additional two weeks after arrival. The new rules allow access to the arenas as part of that quarantine procedure.
Edmonton and the Alberta province have less than 8500 total cases, which is less than 10% of Canada’s total. Alberta has suffered only 154 Coronavirus deaths.
The Edmonton bid was touted by Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, and sweetened on June 22. The bid expanded to include Rocky Mountain excursions for NHL players and families. Alberta is also the leader in the world in COVID-19 testing per capita.
Not all players are yet eager for the return to play. Last Thursday, Montreal goalie Carey Price expressed reservations about the return on a 30-minute conference call. Per the CBC, Price has genuine concerns.
“I have about an equal amount of optimism and pessimism,” he said. “It’s a very unusual situation. I want the opportunity to play for a Stanley Cup, but I want to be able to continue living life normally.”