As politicians and public health officials across Canada discuss steps towards easing physical distancing restrictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league is looking at a number of different scenarios in a possible restart of the 2019-20 season this summer.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Wednesday that a special advisory committee on COVID-19 is working on setting criteria on when we can gradually return to normal, and will do so by analyzing hospitalization rates, the number of new cases and how the virus appears to be reproducing.
That public health part of the equation is vitally important because if health officials don’t give the National Hockey League the green light to return to action, in any way shape or form, then we will continue to be forced to watch re-runs of classic games.
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But if restrictions are eased and leagues like the NHL are allowed to resume play, probably without any fans in attendance, one of the scenarios Bettman and league officials are looking at is hosting games at a select number of arenas across North America.
I would suspect that venues like Rogers Place in Edmonton and Scotiabank Arena in Toronto are at the top of the NHL’s list of places that could act as a so-called mega-hub for games, because of their proximity to a number of practice facilities and hotels.
It wouldn’t be feasible for two arenas to host games if the NHL plans to finish the rest of the regular season, but in a 16-team playoff tournament — or even an expanded format involving 22 or 24 teams — Toronto and Edmonton could get the job done.
Rogers Place could play host to the Western Conference playoff games and teams could practice at the ICE District Community Arena and a couple of other arenas in the vicinity, while the Eastern Conference playoffs could play out at Scotiabank Arena and practices could be held at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (the former Maple Leaf Gardens) and even at Coca-Cola Coliseum, the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate.
Odds are the NHL’s final plan for the resumption of play will look a lot different than what I just presented, but if league officials are forced to pick two spots to play the most important part of their season, then it can’t lose by choosing Toronto and Edmonton.