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A glimpse inside the NHL bubble

When players enter the secure zone this weekend, here’s what they can expect both on the ice and off.

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

In just four days, 24 NHL teams will travel to their respective hub cities and enter a bubble environment for the duration of their stay in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Toronto will play host to the Eastern Conference with games being held at Scotiabank Arena while Rogers Place in Edmonton will host the Western Conference.

With player arrival just days away, the NHL is starting to pull back the curtain on what life will be like inside the bubble environment. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet in Canada shared some new information detailing how the NHL is setting up its secure zones for players in each hub city along with what actions will be taken to mitigate home ice advantage the Maple Leafs or Oilers may receive.

Per Johnston:

The NHL is prioritizing a level playing field both here and in Edmonton, where the Oilers will be home, but not, for this 24-team restart. Players from both teams will move to hotels inside the secure zone on Sunday and be subjected to all of the same rules and restrictions as everyone else.

From a hockey perspective, that’s going to see the Leafs visit parts of their own building some players may be unfamiliar with. They will almost certainly have to dress in the converted media room space and the Toronto Raptors locker room at some point, in addition to the NHL visiting room and their typical home setup behind the sliding silver doors.

While it may be impossible to eliminate all home cooking benefits a team may enjoy by playing in their home arena, the NHL is taking great lengths to level the playing field as much as possible.

Another way the NHL is looking to make the situation more fair for all involved is allowing teams to implement elements from their own home arenas for their games in the bubble. According to a report in The Athletic (subscription required), the Tampa Bay Lightning recorded a full rendition of their pregame ceremony, traditional anthem singer and all, to be played prior to designated home games. Both The Athletic report and Johnston hinted at rumors the Columbus Blue Jackets will have a recording of the infamous cannon to play when they score.

From a Penguins perspective, nothing was mentioned in either of the reports about what elements they may carry over, but based on what other teams are doing we can probably assume we will be getting a Jeff Jimerson anthem sequence prior to designated home games at minimum. It also seems like a safe bet that goals songs will be at the ready for all teams.

Off the ice, all teams and players will be placed under strict guidelines detailing where they can and cannot go. After the teams arrive this weekend, they will not be allowed outside the secure zone for 14 days as to meet Canada’s mandatory quarantine requirements. Once that two week period is over, they may attend pre-planned activities outside the zone.

In Toronto, the Eastern conference teams will reside in either Hotel X or the Royal York. Living accomodations were split based off points percentage which resulted in the Penguins landing at Hotel X along with rivals the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.

According to Johnston, Hotel X is the better of the two options due to its more modern style and overall offerings compared to the Royal York:

The Leafs also ended up with the less favourable hotel setup because points percentage was used in determining who stayed where. They’ll move into the Royal York while the Eastern Conference’s five best teams (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) take up residence at Hotel X — a much more modern property with appealing amenities such as a rooftop pool and tennis courts. It’s also in close proximity to BMO Field, which will be transformed into an outdoor park of sorts for players with BBQs and green space to use for workouts or relaxing.

Mentioned above is BMO Field, home ground of Toronto FC, the local MLS team. The field will be transformed into an outdoor rec area for the players where they can work out or just go and relax with teammates. Staying at Hotel X will mean the Penguins can simply walk to BMO Field as opposed to needing a shuttle.

If players or coaches wish to spend their downtime watching other games going on, they can do just that in designated lounges that will be set up in the respective arenas.

Earlier this week news broke that the NHL and NHLPA agreed to relax its CBA mandated dress code for all players during this return to play. As required during a normal season, players must wear a suit and tie to all games whether home or away. For these next few weeks, players will be permitted to wear whatever they wish when arriving to the arena.

While most of this article has focused on the setup in the Eastern Conference hub of Toronto, the guidelines and amenities offered are similar if not the exact same for the Western Conference teams playing in Edmonton.

Even though everything seems to be going smoothly at the moment for the NHL in its attempt to resume play, there won’t be any sighs of relief until all the teams are safely inside their respective secure zones in either Toronto or Edmonton.

Moving an entire hockey franchise from its home base to another city is a large undertaking and has everyone on edge as Sunday rapidly approaches. It seems once they get there they will be met with a state of the art setup that the NHL has gone all out to ensure meets the necessary standards to protect the athletes and other team personnel.

Here’s to hoping it all goes according to plan and this time next week we can all be preparing for the Penguins to begin another Stanley Cup journey.