I know this will come off as homer-ism in the extreme to some, but when I look at the 10 cities on the NHL’s shortlist to be hubs when play-ins and playoffs finally get underway, I don’t see a better hub candidate than Edmonton. Tell me I’m wrong.
That’s assuming, of course, there’s a way to deal with the 14-day quarantine period that’s in place. If that doesn’t change, you can strike Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto off the list right now, leaving Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Pittsburgh in the running. That’s the challenge for all three Canadian cities.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who has been a voice of reason throughout this whole COVID-19 pandemic as Alberta’s chief medical officer, addressed that Thursday in the wake of pitches made by Alberta premier Jason Kenney and the Oilers to make Edmonton a hub city for play-ins and what will be a 16-team playoff. She talked about “cohort groups” – having teams and personnel quarantine together — that might address safety issues.
“Safety must be the top priority,” Hinshaw said. “In order to make this happen, all levels of government and the NHL will have to collaborate to find creative solutions. The guidelines we have put in place we feel would adequately address the safety of Albertans as well as being considerate of the opportunity for sporting events, which we know Albertans enjoy, to take place. I want to be clear that we’re not talking about waiving the quarantine requirements.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has used the term “exemptions” to make hubs work in Canada. So has Kenney, talking specifically about Edmonton. Out in B.C., health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the NHL won’t be getting special treatment. “I would love to have hockey,” Henry said. “(But) we’re not bending the rules in any way that would put what we’ve achieved here in B.C. at risk.”
If there isn’t a way to sort the 14-day quarantine out, my guess is Pittsburgh and Las Vegas could end up as the hubs. If there’s a way to satisfy safety concerns without “bending the rules,” as Henry puts it, I think Edmonton sits right at the top for several reasons – all of which have been pitched by the Oilers, city hall and Kenney.
First and foremost, no city on the shortlist has done as good a job as the Edmonton area has in addressing the pandemic. Edmonton’s numbers, whether you’re talking about overall COVID-19 cases, new cases, recoveries or deaths, are unmatched anywhere in the league, not just by the nine other hub city candidates.
Rogers Place and the adjoining community rink have 15 combined dressing rooms. There is space for five TV trucks and broadcast facilities are second to none. Ice District, anchored by the J.W. Marriott near the rink, provides plenty of hotel rooms and amenities. There are dozens of restaurants within blocks. Simply put, Edmonton checks every box. The wrench in the works is the quarantine.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Even without fans in Rogers Place to watch games, being a hub would provide an economic bump to businesses that could dearly use it. The same, of course, could be said of every city. It won’t be a windfall, but it’ll help. That’s secondary, of course, to making sure that the whole process is staged safely. Edmonton, more than any other city, is well-positioned to do that.
We still have several weeks to wait before the puck drops again – camps won’t even open until July 10. COVID-19 numbers in shortlisted cities could change substantially. The situation is fluid. There is a window to try to find a solution to the quarantine issue that could keep games out of Canada completely. The way I see it, if we can navigate that bit of business, Edmonton is a clear-cut choice as one of the two hubs.