05/27 17:57 CDT NHL monitoring situation before choosing where to play games
NHL monitoring situation before choosing where to play games
By STEPHEN WHYNO
AP Hockey Writer
Concerns about Canadian coronavirus restrictions could push hockey south of the
49th parallel into the U.S. this summer.
Seven of the 10 locations the NHL has zeroed in on to hold playoff games if it
resumes are American cities not restricted by Canada's 14-day mandatory
quarantine upon arrival. As 24 teams figure out how to squeeze an expanded
roster and limited personnel into one of two "hub" cities, the Vancouver
Canucks are even considering relocating training camp to the U.S. if the
situation doesn't change in the coming weeks.
"It's something that we're thinking about, but also too we just want to give it
a few more days just to see if something is going to change," Vancouver general
manager Jim Benning said Wednesday. "The perfect scenario we'd like to use our
facilities. We're probably going to have 30, 32 guys here and we have great
facilities for our players, so we would like to do that first and foremost. But
we've talked about moving it off site."
The Canucks are in the same boat as the NHL, which is in no rush to choose
among the 10 finalists: Las Vegas, Columbus, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas,
Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. It will in
the next few weeks select two or three to host Eastern and Western Conference
brackets and then the Stanley Cup Final by factoring in government regulations,
the frequency of COVID-19 in the community and availability of testing.
"We want to just be in a position to, in real time, have lots of options once
we understand what the state of play is at the time we need to make the
decision," Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We could pick one or two locations,
but that might, if we made the decision today, not turn out to be as good a
decision as one that we make three, four weeks from now because things are
continuing to evolve in all of the places that we play."
The league told GMs on Tuesday to plan for a roster of 28 skaters and unlimited
goaltenders for training camps that won't begin before early July and games
without fans several weeks later. Each team will have a personnel cap of 50 in
the city where games are played, and the wheels are turning even before
facilities are reopened for voluntary workouts.
Before the NHL commits to where games could be held, officials are planning for
multiple scenarios. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly is engaged in regular
dialogue with the U.S. and Canadian governments and medical experts to
determine what the health and safety landscape might look like this summer.
"That doesn't mean we get to look for any type of exception or any type of
favoritism," said Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, who's on the Return
to Play committee. "I think we just want to continue to follow the guidelines
that are set out for us and do the best that we can. Hopefully things improve
to a point where those things could be possibly loosened up, not just for us
but for all of society."
Because testing is lagging in Ontario and British Columbia's government isn't
expected to make exceptions for the NHL, Edmonton could be Canada's best hope.
Oilers GM Ken Holland said with an attached practice rink and hotel and nearby
restaurants, "Edmonton checks off in my opinion all the boxes."
Except that Daly said Canada's 14-day quarantine would be a nonstarter. The NHL
is already facing what Winnipeg forward Andrew Copp called a "time crunch" to
fit in effectively five rounds of playoffs, and if the focus shifts solely on
U.S. locations, Las Vegas and Columbus appear to be the front-runners.
Beyond the abundance of hotels and sparkling new rink the Las Vegas Strip can
offer, the arena district in Columbus could serve as an effective bubble for
"Whether it's from the building or the facilities surrounding the building to
accommodate hotel rooms, meals -- whatever it needs to be, we've covered it,"
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. "Also the state of Ohio is in pretty
good shape as far as flattening the curve and providing a safe environment that
way. The transportation is easy if needed between facilities in Columbus, and
we have a lot of rink facilities that we can use for the amount of teams that
would be in the tournament."
There wouldn't be much of a home-ice advantage without fans, and the league is
considering moving the "home" team to the other city. But that isn't stopping
NHL executives from pitching the ability to host playoff games.
"We have a state of the art facility in Cranberry, the Lemieux Center, and the
medical center attached and we have plenty of hotels and everything like that,"
Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said. "We meet the criteria but we
understand there's other cities that do, also."
The two biggest surprises on the NHL's list were Chicago and Los Angeles. The
Blackhawks and Kings each said they were honored to be considered.
But not being a coronavirus hotspot and having a surplus of testing are key
elements to the decision. Bettman said the league won't interfere with an
area's medical needs or take up tests from the general public, and those in
hockey hoping to land games know that.
"None of us would agree to a situation where we are taking away testing from
people that need it," Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. "Several
weeks from now, we would really have to be in a position where the health care
community and the government community of whatever country we're in, whatever
city we're in are in agreement that this can be done and it can be done in a
respectful, conscientious way."
AP Sports Writers Will Graves and Mitch Stacy contributed to this report.