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Evaluating the hub city candidates

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From Pittsburgh to Vancouver, every city under consdieration has something to offer.

NHL: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When (or if) the NHL returns to play with the Stanley Cup playoffs later this summer, it will do so in two “hub cities” hosting 12 teams apiece. Logically, one city will host the Eastern Conference teams while the other will host the Western Conference.

Which two cities will be chosen as the hosts for the NHL’s return to play have yet to be determined, but the league has narrowed down the list to ten candidate cities, nine of which have a team in qualified for the postseason.

Before continuing, here are the ten cities in the running to be selected as hub cities for when the NHL resumes play.

Candidate Cities

Chicago, IL

Columbus, OH

Dallas, TX

Edmonton, AB

Las Vegas, NV

Los Angeles, CA

Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Pittsburgh, PA

Toronto, ON

Vancouver, BC

The ten cities above are all under consideration by the NHL to serve as the league’s hub cities based on several different factors outlined by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during an interview back in April.

Via The Athletic:

The host city could not be in what Bettman called a hotspot for the COVID-19 virus.

The chosen arenas would need at least four NHL-caliber dressing rooms so that as many as three games could be played per day and the league would have time to sanitize the rooms. If the games are played without fans in attendance, it’s possible the league could construct makeshift dressing rooms in other parts of the arena.

The arenas would need practice facilities nearby that meet NHL standards to accommodate multiple teams’ practice schedules.

Per collective bargaining agreement requirements, there would need to be suitable four- or five-star hotel space nearby to house the players.

Sharing an arena with an NBA team is not ideal. While the NBA could decide to play all of its games in one site, the NHL would need clarity on that before choosing a host site with a shared facility.

It’s the NHL’s hope to have one eastern city as a hub and one western city, but with only three true Eastern cities on the list, will the NHL consider places like Chicago and Minnesota eastern enough to count if they decide pick them?

Using the NHL’s own criteria, let’s take a look at the 10 potential hub cities the league will choose from to see how they match up with the requirements and whether or not they will be a good fit for hockey’s potential comeback.

One aspect highlighted in the individual city evaluations below is the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak in each respective city. While some cities may have higher reported case numbers than others, all cities showed a progressive downward trend of new coronavirus cases being reported.

Oh, Canada

Canada has three cities under consideration by the NHL to serve as a hub city so we’ll evaluate them all together going from east to west.

Before we get into the cities, it should be pointed out there is one major hurdle potentially standing in the way of the NHL choosing a Canadian city. Right now, there is a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all individual entering the country. Lawmakers are trying to convince Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to waive the quarantine requirement for athletes.

Toronto

NHL: Nashville Predators at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Home Arena: Scotiabank Arena

COVID-19 Numbers: Approaching 13,000 reported cases.

Toronto is a massive metro area and one of the NHL’s most important cities in terms of exposure. On the surface, the capital of Ontario makes a ton of sense, it has the necessary ice rinks and locker room space to support a dozen NHL teams coming to town and hotels are certainly not an issue either.

While Toronto undoubtedly makes a ton of sense for the NHL as a hub, one has to wonder if the climbing COVID-19 case total in the city makes the league wary when better options are on the table.

Edmonton

Home Arena: Rogers Place

COVID-19 Numbers: Only 613 cases in Alberta’s ‘Edmonton’ Zone.

Edmonton may not be Toronto in terms of size, but what it can offer up in amenities is nearly comparable. Rogers Place is a state of the art facility that comes with a full scale hotel attached to the building, a huge plus for the city in the eyes of the NHL. There are also nearly 70 NHL sized rinks registered in the Edmonton area.

As for the COVID-19 situation in Edmonton, with just over 600 reported cases, Edmonton accounts for less than nine percent of Alberta’s total cases. A much better situation than what Toronto is experiencing.

Vancouver

Home Arena: Rogers Arena

COVID-19 Numbers: Vancouver reports 907 cases but under 90 fatalities.

The hosts of the 2010 Winter Olympics are no strangers to playing host to a major sporting events and this version of the Stanley Cup playoffs would pale in comparison to the size of an Olympic type event. Like the other two Canadian cities above them, Vancouver offers plenty in terms of available ice space and amenities such as hotels, but with an American west coast city making a strong case it seems Vancouver is unlikely to be selected.

As for the city’s COVID-19 situation, Vancouver was praised for their attempts and eventual success at stemming a major outbreak of the virus.

Beasts of the East

Depending on how you classify Columbus, there are either one or two cities from the east under consideration to be a hub for the league. For this exercise, we are classifying Columbus as an eastern city, therefore giving the region of pair of cities to look at.

Pittsburgh

Home Arena: PPG Paints Arena

COVID-19 Numbers: Allegheny County is reporting 2,027 cases at this time.

PPG Paints Arena has all the required specifications to meet the NHL criteria to be a hub city and combined with the UPMC Lemieux complex in Cranberry could make Pittsburgh the perfect fit. There are two hotels within shouting distance of the downtown arena with others in the immediate vicinity. No word on if the Robert Morris practice facility could also be utilized.

From a COVId-19 standpoint, Pittsburgh fared much better than many major cities and has already moved into Pennsylvania’s ‘green phase’ for reopening.

Columbus

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Home Arena: Nationwide Arena

COVID-19 Numbers: Columbus has reported over 5,000 positive cases.

Perhaps a city no one was thinking about as a potential hub when this all started is Columbus. Over the years, the city has done a terrific job of building up the area around the arena, including a number of hotels close to the arena that could be used to house players. Nationwide Arena itself boasts everything the NHL is looking for as well and the Ohio State campus is nearby to practice reasons.

On the virus front, Columbus has been as fortunate as fellow eastern city Pittsburgh, currently sitting on over 5,000 reported cases.

Midwest Hospitality

Three cities from the midwest region of the United States made the NHL’s list of potential hub cities. One city was hit hard by the virus, another is a hockey hot bed, and the last one resides in a state ready for pro sports right away.

Chicago

Host Arena: United Center

COVID-19 Numbers: There have been nearly 49,000 reported cases in Chicago.

Chicago is the third largest metro area in the United States and second largest of the cities currently up for debate by the NHL. Chicago boasts the United Center along with other NHL regulation rinks to accommodate games and practices. Given the sheer size of the city, hotels and other amenities will be no issue.

When it first became news that the NHL was looking at hub cities to conduct games, Chicago was considered by many a no-go because of the amount of reported COVID-19 cases. Even with the city making the list, it feels too soon for the NHL to make Chicago a hub.

Dallas

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Host Arena: American Airlines Center

COVID-19 Numbers: There have been 12,645 cases reported in Dallas county.

With the NBA going to neutral sites, the NHL won’t have to worry about sharing American Airlines Center should they choose Dallas. The Stars organization also operate over 15 ice surfaces in the area that could be used for practice. High temperatures will be an issue anywhere the NHL goes, but especially so in Dallas where triple digits is always possible.

Dallas currently sits at under 13,000 reported cases which is better than some worse than others. One thing to look at for in regards to Dallas, the state of Texas has been declared open for business, including pro sports leagues.

Minneapolis/St. Paul

Home Arena: Xcel Energy Center

COVID-19 Numbers: There were no solid numbers for the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area available, but Minnesota as a whole has reported just over 28,000.

When the NHL announced its candidate list for potential hub cities, Minneapolis stood out as a favorite to be selected. It’s the ‘State of Hockey’ and has more than enough facilities to accommodate 12 NHL teams for games, practices, and lodging.

What may have seemed like a sure thing to many has now suddenly been thrown into doubt. Due to the ongoing protests over the death of George Floyd, it remains to be seen if the NHL still views Minneapolis as a viable hub city at this time.

From a COVID-19 perspective, Minnesota as a whole has reported over 28,000 positive cases with a majority coming from the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.

West Coast, Best Coast

Two cities from America’s west coast were named hub city finalist by the NHL. One sits as a popular pick while the other was hit hard by the coronavirus but will still open its doors to pro sports.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas Remains Closed As Memorial Day Weekend Approaches Amid COVID-19 Pandemic Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Home Arena: T-Mobile Arena

COVID-19 Numbers: Clark County, home of Las Vegas, has reported 7,800 cases.

Home of the Golden Knights, Las Vegas boasts about everything on the NHL’s wish list for a hub city. Plenty of hotels and other amenities for players along with a state of the art arena and practice facility not far from one another. Vegas, more than perhaps any city on this list, is designed entirely to host large large events like the NHL is planning. Like Dallas, it will be interesting to see how any ice surface would hold up under the intense desert heat.

Nevada as a whole has reported very low numbers of COVID-19 cases, but due to its density, Las Vegas accounts more a vast majority of those cases. Still, for a major metro area, Vegas has done seemingly well and reopening is underway.

Los Angeles

Home Arena: Staples Center

COVID-19 Numbers: Los Angeles county has reported nearly 66,000 cases.

Los Angeles is the entertainment center of the world and the NHL would have no problem finding enough resources to conduct a 12 team tournament in the city. Staples Center will be vacant with the NBA choosing Orlando as a neutral destination for games. Honda Center in Anaheim is also nearby if the NHL wants to utilize a second full size NHL Arena for events.

Like Chicago, when the hub city idea came about, Los Angeles was strictly a non-starter for almost everyone. Even with the large positive case number from Los Angeles, the city is beginning to reopen and pro sports are being welcomed if they choose.

What will the NHL decide?

Now that we briefly discussed all 10 potential hub city locations, we can take a stab at what cities we think the NHL may choose to host games. There are no right answers here, but some options do look more enticing than others.

Chicago and Los Angeles feel like long shots given the high case numbers still rolling in for those two respective cities. Minneapolis/St. Paul looked like the strongest bet of the bunch but now looks less likely given the circumstances. Toronto would be a dream scenario for the NHL, but with new cases still coming in bunches and better eastern options available they are eliminated.

Between Las Vegas and Dallas, the two potentially temperature affected areas, Vegas is simply better suited to host a large scale event like this. It’s almost the sole purpose of Vegas even existing.

That leaves Vancouver, Edmonton, and Las Vegas out west with Columbus and Pittsburgh the two east finalists. If the NHL is bound and determined to get at least one Canadian market as a host city, then the nod goes to Edmonton. If they are willing to be flexible, then the honor goes to Las Vegas, with the city potentially getting the Stanley Cup Final as well.

In the east, both Columbus and Pittsburgh provide similar offerings to the NHL, but Pittsburgh’s low COVID-19 numbers help push it past Columbus to host as the east representative.