The National Hockey League is considering Pittsburgh as a finalist if and when the NHL return-to-play scenarios reach full bloom. According to TSN reporter Pierre LeBrun, who has a hotline into the league offices, the Pittsburgh Penguins home is one 12 finalists for neutral site games.
Columbus is the other Metro Division city listed. However, the NHL is not married to the concept of choosing one city in each division. We could see the Pittsburgh Penguins playing games in Edmonton if that’s what works.
The criteria to host the semi-neutral site games include the obvious control of the coronavirus, available hotels, and additional facilities, including a first-rate practice rink. Initially, Raleigh was a reported favorite, but their practice rink is not yet completed. According to LeBrun, Raleigh didn’t make the top-12.
The NHL can’t make final decisions until closer to its relaunch because the coronavirus pandemic could spike in any given city, which would create a hazard. According to NHL executive Colin Campbell, the NHL is looking for “friendly” locations with hotels, restaurants, and low infection rates.
Pittsburgh qualifies, mostly.
PPG Paints Arena and the UPMC Lemieux Complex are excellent facilities. Really. The amenities are first-rate in both locations. Even the Pittsburgh Penguins opponents have an ample locker room.
Without hoards of media crashing the party, as we do in the playoffs, there are also large areas the league could easily fashion into additional locker rooms or equipment storage.
PPG Paints Arena has three surrounding hotels.
Most importantly, Allegheny County reports only 1177 cases of coronavirus and 208 deaths. It also appears the virus already peaked, barring a fresh outbreak.
There aren’t many full-time residents in downtown Pittsburgh, which lessens the chance for an outbreak.
Milanos Pizza is far better than the square cardboard stuff they like in Columbus, and anyone who has been to Shales already has an immunity to bacteria and viruses (we kid, we kid).
PPG Paints Arena is green. The arena was built with green energy and sustainability in mind. Don’t underestimate the political points for such action, and the NHL’s willingness to tout that.
Pittsburgh is cheap (and God bless us for that). You can get a slice and a pop for $5. Downtown hotel rooms are about $150-$300, which is far less than bigger metropolitan cities. The NHL is well aware of the cost factor to pull off this quarantine miracle, and the NHL wallets are already depleted by the stoppage.
Every nickel will count, and Pittsburgh can save the NHL a few of those nickels.
Pittsburgh is close enough to New York, the league hub and broadcast center. Travel costs and set up costs would be less in Pittsburgh than driving trucks across the continent and flying dozens of people into faraway cities.
The Mario Lemieux statue is symbolic, and his presence in these unsettled times is a significant selling point.
Hotels are not abundant in Pittsburgh, and while the current national occupancy rate is only 20%, Pittsburgh fills up quickly. Especially as businesses re-open in May, Pittsburgh may not have the most convenient housing.
Other cities under consideration have hotel districts, in which hotels operate close together and even share services such as airport shuttles. Pittsburgh hotels are scattered amongst the city.
The UPMC Lemieux Complex is not close to the arena, and Cranberry hotels intertwine with shopping, dining, and businesses.
Pittsburgh is a small, tight city. The chance for an outbreak with busloads of new residents is high.
The downtown arena location also means the arena will be tougher to quarantine than an arena district like Columbus, or an arena set apart from the city. Multiple businesses and offices mingle into the Pittsburgh layout.
Duquesne University and its thousands of students who are only meter sticks away will/might report to class in August. That could be a significant issue. The first day of Duquesne classes is Aug. 24.
Pittsburgh summer weather often includes high humidity, which sometimes makes the ice choppy in warmer weather.
There is and has been some “Pittsburgh fatigue” across the league. The Pittsburgh Penguins get plenty of national attention, and some perceive them to get favors by the league. If things are equal, the decision-makers could choose a city which needs extra attention.
We’ll still put the odds the Pittsburgh Penguins home becomes an NHL hub site at 50/50. Pittsburgh’s low coronavirus infection and posh arena are too good to ignore.