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NHL to return this summer in limited locations? Including in Pittsburgh?

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Hockey has lots of options for possible returns, but no timetable just quite yet

2018 NHL Club Business Meetings General Session Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke recently about what the league is thinking and the options potentially on the table for a return to play.

The idea to relocate to a place like New Hampshire and play games in somewhat isolation is out. What also is intriguing is that Bettman isn’t punting just quite yet on finishing the last part of the regular season.

“Ideally from our standpoint — and it would resolve a lot of issues — would be if we could complete the regular season, even if it’s on a centralized basis, and then go into the [Stanley Cup Playoffs] the way we normally play them.

“That would be ideal. But that’s, again, one of the numerous models we’re looking at, and if we can’t do ideal, if we can’t do perfect, we’re going to have to figure out what’s next to perfect.”

The NHL has decided against playing in non-NHL arenas at neutral sites because League arenas are best equipped to handle its needs if it decides to centralize games.

“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community, because if we’re going to be centralized, we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide, whether it’s multiple locker rooms, whether it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities,” Commissioner Bettman said.

But it does look like wheels are in motion to at least figure out how to get all the teams together in NHL rinks and play.

“Maybe it’ll be two cities,” the Commissioner said. “It’s not something that we can predict right at this moment. But this is part of the contingencies. It doesn’t necessarily have to be by division, although the centralization may be by division.

“But the particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hot spot and has what we need both in terms of the arena and having practice facilities, because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel, there does need to be ice for practice.”

The NHL has recommended players and staff self-quarantine through April 30. The first step toward resuming the season would be for players to work out at team facilities. The next step would be a training camp, which Commissioner Bettman said, based on a conversation with players and the NHL Players’ Association, would need to be at least three weeks.

April 30th is one week from today, so time is moving pretty quickly for that metric. At this point it’s tough to imagine that players will be allowed to travel to team facilities on that date. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the governor’s “stay at home” order has been extended to May 8th, though there are indications that restrictions may begin to be eased at that point.

At the end of the day, Bettman acknowledges what we all know — that this is still out of his hands, just as its out of basically all of our hands as for what the future may hold.

“The decision ultimately will be made by medical people and people who are in governments at all different levels, so we’re not going to try and do anything that flies in the face of what we’re being told is appropriate,” the Commissioner said.

“… But clearly, we can play into the summer. Clearly, we can play next season, which we intend to do in its entirety, starting later. And so, with a lot of timing options, we have a great deal of flexibility, and we’re not going to rush anything. We’re not going to do anything that’s crazy. We’re going to try and do something, under the circumstances at the time, that is sensible.”

But, the good news is that every day without hockey is simply one day closer to the NHL season restarting. Eventually it will happen, and it’s looking like the league is eyeing trying to centralize games in a handful of cities to play out their season at some point in the summer. We’ll see what happens next, but the first step will be having players be able to work out with their teammates. May 1st and 8th look to be key dates for the Penguins as they see what guidance the league and the commonwealth will provide.

Update: TSN’s Frank Seravelli lists Pittsburgh as one of four markets that could be potential host cities for future NHL games:

PITTSBURGH

COVID-19 data: Pennsylvania has been a hotspot, but Allegheny County – home of the Penguins – accounts for just 1,088 of the state’s 35,684 positive cases. That’s three per cent of the cases in a county that accounts for 10 per cent of the state’s population. (Source: PA Dept. of Health)

Pittsburgh’s case: The city’s downtown PPG Paints Arena has hosted some of the NHL’s biggest games over the last decade and there is a suitable Marriott hotel located directly across the street. But the Steel City’s biggest selling point for hosting an NHL restart may actually be its top-rated UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex practice facility, located 20 minutes away in quiet Cranberry, Pa. The two-pad complex has seating for more than 1,500 in its main arena, where the Pens practice, plus the partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center provides sports medicine and medical care at one of the best hospitals in the country.