Coronavirus: NHL considering neutral host sites to play fan-less games

A woman wearing a P100 respirator, amid concerns about COVID-19, walks past artwork of the Chicago Blackhawks NHL hockey team's Native American chief logo wearing a respirator, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Friday, April 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The National Hockey League is listening to offers from venues around North America that are volunteering to host neutral-site playoff games. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly discussed the proposals with ESPN on Friday.

The NHL season, like those of all other major North American sports leagues, was halted in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do have people putting together the comprehensive laundry list of what we would need from facilities and evaluating some facilities on some level,” Daly told ESPN. “But I can’t tell you we’ve even finished creating a list (of potential sites), much less narrowed it down.”

According to the report, among the sites that could host games, probably without fans in the stands, are Grand Forks, North Dakota; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

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No neutral site has yet been vetted by the NHL, according to Daly.

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Other leagues reportedly are weighing the viability of resuming at neutral sites with no fans present. The Bahamas and Las Vegas have been mentioned as possible sites for NBA games, and Major League Baseball reportedly is considering plans that could restart action at spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida.

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Sports bars & pubs concerned about COVID-19

All NHL teams had between 11 and 14 regular-season games remaining when play was halted. The format to be used when and if action resumes remains uncertain.

“We’re just starting to get our minds around that,” Daly told ESPN. “It’s kind of a combination of things, like when we can start a regular season (in 2020-21) and how much time we need for an offseason, and then what does the playoff format look like, in terms of knowing what you need to have a regular season.”

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“I would say that a best-of-one (playoff format) is not something we would ever go to. I’ve always had the caveat that everything is on the table and nothing is out of the question.

“I would say there would be a strong opposition to ever creating a playoff where it was a single elimination. I think best-of-three is more possible, not preferred, but more possible than a best-of-one scenario.”

Daly said the league would listen to medical experts over such potential decisions as whether family members would be allowed to join the players if a neutral-site model is enacted.

Eight NHL players are known to have tested positive for COVID-19, five members of the Ottawa Senators and three members of the Colorado Avalanche. All of the affected Senators were symptom-free as of Wednesday, according to coach D.J. Smith.

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