When it comes to the COIVD-19 pandemic, the way it has been handled in Canada versus the United States has been night and day. With new cases and deaths surging across a number of states, the NHL was faced with a tough decision. They had decided more than a month ago that Las Vegas was going to be the hub city for the Western Conference during the league’s Return to Play (RTP) plan for later this summer. Now, with the pandemic running wild through out the United States, the NHL was forced to change course. This week, the league and the players association announced that they have chosen to have both of their “hub” cities - rebranded as the more metal Phase-4 Safe Zones - in Canada.
Toronto was always the front runner for the Eastern Conference. It’s got the best infrastructure for setting up the “bubble” the NHL wants. There are three professional hockey arenas within 15 minutes of each other as well as nearly a dozen hotels and even more world class restaurants that can be accessed from Scotia Bank Arena without ever going outside. Add that to the fact that the majority of the hockey media is based out of Toronto and it makes sense that the NHL would choose their biggest market. Not to mention the fact that Toronto’s per capita COVID-19 cases is incredibly low compared to most major cities in North America.
As for the Western Conference, the NHL had targeted Las Vegas from the time they first started talking about returning to finish the season. It makes all kinds of sense on paper. State-of-the-art arena, connected hotels, world class restaurants and some of the best golf in the area for the off days. Plus the players could just head down to the casinos at night. But then Nevada - like many states - decided to open things up too early. The economy was held as a higher priority than the health of the citizens and it’s caused the pandemic to worsen in the United States - with no sign of getting better any time soon.
That caused the NHL to change course at the last minute. Despite the initial protests of the NHLPA - which apparently didn’t want to be forced to spend months at a time in Edmonton - the league settled on the Alberta city because it was a much safer option.
Now that we know the NHL will be re-starting the season on August 1, the Colorado Avalanche are hoping for something not many people outside of Northern Alberta have ever wished for - that they’ll be spending a few months in Edmonton.
Once the Avs travel to Alberta for Phase 4, they are hoping they will be in lockdown for a few months. That’s because the longer they’re sequestered in Edmonton, the closer to they are getting to the Stanley Cup.
With 11 of the Western Conference teams playing these games in a “neutral site”, home-ice advantage is completely out the window — no crowd, no sleeping in your own bed and no familiarity with the arena/playing surface. Matchups will count for a lot more than historic record but for what it’s worth, the Avalanche are 4-2-1 in Edmonton over the last five years.
When the season was put on pause, an injury-ravaged Avalanche team was two points out of the top spot in the West. Now, with five months of rest behind them, a healthy Avs team has the potential to do some serious damage in the playoffs. Which means a lot of quiet time in an Edmonton hotel.
At least it’s better than spending the winter in Edmonton.