The NHL’s return is still a hypothetical. But it’s one that has taken on more than a few layers.
There’s the format, a 24-team battle royale that would see eight teams in each conference duke it out in rounds of five for the chance to advance into the actual playoffs (the first round would be the postseason and not the playoffs, apparently).
And then there’s the logistical nightmare of how to safely quarantine teams of around 30 players and numerous staff members.
With training camps set to open July 10, the NHL is going to have to figure out that last part quick. One of the two places reportedly locked in as a “hub city” for NHL action is Las Vegas. We’re going to assume that’s due to the region’s ability to house hundreds of people in hotels close to each other and not because it has dealt with the pandemic well (because it hasn’t—Clark County, which Vegas resides in, has seen over 9,000 cases).
The other hub city is still up for grabs, with Vancouver being one of the finalists, along with Edmonton and Toronto in Canada and Columbus, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St.Paul and Chicago in the U.S.
Of course, Vancouver’s ability to showcase large events like the 2010 Olympics likely means it’s a legitimate contender to host games if they happen. It also doesn’t hurt that Dr. Bonnie Henry and premier John Horgan have come out in support of the city’s bid. That plan includes playing in front of zero fans, with teams quarantined together and having no access to their families or the public.
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of the city’s bid to become a hub city for the NHL’s return to play.
Pro: Good for the local economy (well, some of it)
If Vancouver gets the chance to host games, Rogers Arena will be the site with perhaps UBC and the Pacific Coliseum serving as practice facilities. That’ll help some arena staff earn some coin in those areas.
There will also likely be restaurants earmarked for the players, though one can bet that, given who owns the team, Toptable Group might have something close to a monopoly on that.
In any case, the hotels chosen to house the teams will also see an obvious major boost in revenue.
Con: Outbreak possibilities
Even as Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that she’s been impressed with the NHL’s planned protocols—which include testing team personnel every day—there will still be a large amount of people coming to Vancouver from all over the world.
So, of course there will be at least some inherent risk in hosting games. One need only look at Orlando International Airport, which has seen over 100 workers develop cases of the virus. It’s also where MLS and the NBA plan to have all their personnel fly into to play their seasons out in Disney World.
Pro: Advantage on ice?
This might be stretching things a bit, but might the Canucks have something of a competitive advantage by playing in Rogers Arena? Umm, probably not, but you know it’s something that the players would credit if they happened to have success.
Even then though, there’s a decent chance that the Eastern Conference would play in Vancouver and the West in Vegas.
Con: Is this the right time for the city?
Between Black Lives Matter protests, tent city evictions in Crab Park and record numbers of overdose deaths in the province, there’s a lot going on in downtown Vancouver right now.
This city and particularly its downtown, is a weird, uncomfortable jumble of the very rich and the very poor at the best of times, but maybe now isn’t the right time to play host to a bunch of millionaire hockey players?
Pro: Positive for players
Even as they won’t be able to see their families, there might be some comfort in players getting to reside in their hometown?
Or not. After all, they’ll reportedly have to stay in a hotel and not their personal residence even if they’re single (sorry, Jake Virtanen). Maybe the mountains have a bit of a calming effect, at the very least?
Con: Again, outbreak possibilities
This can’t be overstated. If Vancouver, which has done a relatively great job managing the pandemic, has a bad outbreak when the NHL comes to town, the decision will sewer much of the goodwill Henry and Horgan have built and cost people their lives.