On Monday, the NHL entered Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play plan, bringing us all one step closer to the return of hockey. The New York Rangers reopened the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown with Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, Adam Fox, Brendan Lemieux, Brendan Smith, and Philip Di Giuseppe being the first small group of six to practice. Although Phase 3 may not begin until early or mid-July, which would be mandatory team practices, the decision as to where the 2020 NHL playoffs are going to happen will be made in the coming weeks.
The qualifying round and round-robin will be held at two hub cities, one hosting the Eastern Conference and one hosting the Western Conference. The ideal two hub cities will need to have safe and secure hotels that can accommodate teams, and the 50 personnel members they are allowed to bring. There will also need to be additional facilities that meet the NHL’s standards and are available for team practices and games. Transportation must be available between the hotels and the facilities. The NHL will have to comply with the cities’ local health regulations due to COVID-19 and monitor infection rates. Additionally, there must be governmental cooperation with the NHL. Once playoff games begin, players and team staff will be tested every night, with the idea that test results would be available by the morning.
“But the ideal hub city is a place where there’s enough room for players to have a life, they’re not going to be sent back to their hotel rooms and stay there 24/7 when they’re not practicing and playing,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daley told NBC Sports, “but it’s going to be a contained environment and it’s going to be a secure environment. It’s going to give the players some opportunity for some entertainment and some freedom, but within a contained environment. We have some ideas on how that works, it will be interesting to see how it works, but that’s the concept.” (NBC Sports)
The ten cities that are in the running to host the Eastern and Western conferences are: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver. Although the Rangers are not specifically playing any home teams, I decided to take a look at each city and how they played there this past season. Moreover, I wanted to write the pros and cons of each city as a hub city.
There are currently 10 cities under consideration to be one of the two Return to Play hub cities. pic.twitter.com/Nv3hZFnLFb— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 26, 2020
The Rangers only faced the Chicago Blackhawks once this season, ironically at the United Center, on February 19th this year. They won that game 6-3.
With the United Center being one of the league’s biggest arenas, in addition to the two NHL locker rooms, it also contains two NBA locker rooms and numerous auxiliary rooms. There are three possible practice arenas nearby – Johnny’s IceHouse East, Johnny’s IceHouse West, and Fifth Third Arena- that have NHL sized rinks and locker rooms. The downtown area has more than enough hotel rooms as well. The biggest issue with choosing Chicago is the fact that Cook County was hit extremely hard by COVID-19 based off of the number of documented positive cases.
This season, the Rangers played the Columbus Blue Jackets twice at Nationwide Arena and also won both of those games. The first game was on December 5th, 2019 with the Blueshirts winning 3-2. The second win came on February 14th of this year with the Rangers beating the Blue Jackets 3-1.
When it comes to why Columbus could be a prime location as a hub city, there are definitely a few pros. The Blue Jackets training facility, the Ice Haus, is directly connected to Nationwide Arena. Also, Ohio State University’s Ice Rink and Value City Arena are a very close drive. There is adequate housing when it comes to the number of hotels that are within walking distance to the arena. However, the state has been struggling with testing capabilities which could hurt their chances of hosting the twelve Eastern Conference teams. “According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Ohio’s rate of 2,826 tests per 100,000 residents is among the nation’s worst,” (The Columbus Dispatch via MSN).
Playing the second to last game of the regular season before the NHL went on pause at the American Airlines Center, the Rangers beat the Dallas Stars 4-2.
Stars President Brad Alberts boasted that Dallas has eight rinks with sixteen ice sheets in total. “Every team can have their own sheet of ice,” stated Alberts, “We’ve got plenty of practice areas for everyone. We’ve got great hotels that are close to the arena that can host the teams. Obviously, our American Airlines Center speaks for itself. So, we check all the boxes,” (Dallas News). There are indeed hotels near the practice facilities. But, the practice rinks are not near American Airlines or the downtown area, and the hot summer weather could affect the ice quality.
On December 8th, 2019, the Blueshirts won against the Vegas Golden Knights, 5-0 at the T-Mobile Arena.
At the moment, it seems that Las Vegas is a front-runner to host the Western Conference. Even though, like Dallas, the hot weather could pose an issue for ice quality, the Knights do have a fairly new two-sheet facility that would be available for practices. What’s more, is that Vegas casinos and resorts have recently reopened, providing more than adequate housing for all twelve teams and personnel. On the other hand, the reopening of casinos and resorts could create more potential exposure for all of those involved. Typically, guests have to walk through casinos in order to go back to their rooms which would mean a lot of possible and unintentional contact with crowds of people.
The Rangers lost 3-1 against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staple Center on December 10th, 2019.
It is interesting to see it on the list as a potential hub city with the number of COVID-19 cases that Los Angeles had. Nevertheless, the Staples Center is not short on dressing rooms being that the Lakers and Clippers will not be in the arena. There are also two hotels across the street, the Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott, which have an underground connection to the Staples Center. This area was utilized by the league when the NHL held the All-Star Game there in 2017. Unfortunately, the Kings practice facility is a half hour away in El Segundo. Due to how bad Los Angeles’ traffic is, it could take teams’ transportation even longer to travel from the arena to the practice facility and vice versa.
It was in a 4-3 shootout win over the Minnesota Wild on November 12th, 2019, that the Rangers last played in Minnesota.
The Xcel Energy Center has two auxiliary dressing rooms and the Wild’s practice facility, TRIA Rink, is located only two blocks away. With Minnesota and the state’s love of hockey, finding other possible practice facilities would not be an issue. The issue that is present is hotel accommodations. It is not that they are lacking but they are scattered, with more hotels being available to house 12 teams about 20 minutes away in Minneapolis.
The Rangers did not get a chance to play at PPG Arena during the 2019-2020 regular season. It is the closest potential hub city to Rangerstown, surrounded by many hotels in the downtown area that are within walking distance. Pittsburgh is also a more central location than some of the other potential host cities on the list. If the NHL chooses one hub city in the west, with Pittsburgh being in the Eastern Time Zone, it would spread out a six-game day schedule better. The city also did not experience as high numbers of Coronavirus cases despite being close to the hard-hit states of New Jersey and New York. The downside to Pittsburgh is that the Penguins’ training facility is about a half hour away.
Edmonton – Toronto – Vancouver
The Edmonton Oilers beat the Rangers at Rogers Place on New Year’s Eve, 7-5. Rogers Place has eleven NHL-standard dressing rooms with four more dressing rooms at the adjacent community rink; the community rink can be used as a practice facility. There are at least three hotels within a few blocks from the arena.
Then there’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, who the Rangers beat 5-4 in overtime at Scotiabank Arena on December 28th, 2019. In addition to Scotiabank Arena, there is their practice facility which houses four ice rinks in it and the Coca-Cola Coliseum that is located nearby. Being a major city for tourism in Canada, hotel accommodations are not a problem. Despite their options for practice facilities and space to host multiple teams, their testing numbers have gone down in recent weeks.
Finally, there’s Vancouver Canucks. The Blueshirts lost in Vancouver on April 1st of this year, 2-1. Rogers Arena is in walking distance to many hotels downtown. Although there has been a recent drop in COVID-19 positive test results, the city lacks nearby practice facilities that other potential cities do have. The University of B.C. has three ice rinks and there is also Burnaby Eight Rinks, but both would require possibly busing teams there.
These three Canadian cities all also pose the same issue. Currently, it is Canadian federal law that those who enter the country are to quarantine themselves for two weeks upon arrival. This would make it tough for the NHL to choose one Canadian city and one city in the United States unless exceptions are made by the federal government for the NHL.
Any home team whose city is chosen would have to comply with the same rules as the rest of the teams by staying in hotels. Essentially, the players and personnel they bring with them will be away from their families for the duration of the playoffs. While it is very exciting that playoff hockey is in the near future, it is most important that the selected cities can keep players and personnel safe by being able to routinely test and monitor everyone’s health.