It’s official. Edmonton’s time as an NHL hub city has come to an end.
The Stanley Cup was awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place on Monday night, marking the first time the trophy has been awarded in the Alberta capital since the Edmonton Oilers won it in the spring of 1988.
With that, the players, staff and coaches of both teams will now head home, marking more than two months inside either the Edmonton or Toronto NHL bubble.
Video posted to social media showed members of the Lightning — with the Stanley Cup in tow — already at the airport Tuesday morning.
The bubble model proved effective in finishing up the 2019-20 NHL season while keeping the spread of COVID-19 at bay. The NHL reported Monday that in its ninth week of return to play, no positive COVID-19 tests were reported.
“I think the NHL and all the people involved with the bubble itself should be commended for doing it without any interruptions or any hiccups,” said Dan Mason, a sports marketing expert and business professor at the University of Alberta.
“I think it went exactly as the NHL hoped it would.”
The opportunity to host the playoffs didn’t turn into a great boost in economic activity, but Mason said the city was well represented.
“I don’t think that anything came out of this that anyone didn’t expect. There obviously wasn’t a huge economic windfall here but I think that certainly, having those shots of Edmonton before the games, in between periods and as they went to commercial break — I’m sure Edmontonians felt good about seeing their city represented,” Mason said.
“The fact that there weren’t any issues may make Edmonton more attractive to doing these kinds of events.
“I think it’s great for Edmontonians to feel as though they’ve been part of something, and I think it’s great the people involved who were actually pulling this off were able to do this in such a successful way. Those are the takeaways I think we can get from this rather than job creation for people who are serving food to the players in the bubble.”
Edmonton’s mayor echoed those sentiments Tuesday, saying the city should be proud of the way it came across during the NHL post-season.
“Certainly, I think it reflected well on the city. It was a COVID-free, effective bubble and that just shows the integrity of all the planning that went into it,” Don Iveson said Tuesday morning.
“The jobs that were created, though not astronomical, were certainly helpful to our hoteliers, and the building showed off great. I think Edmontonians can be proud of having hosted and it’s opened up more opportunities for us with the World Juniors and we’ll see what it means for the next NHL season.”
The success of Edmonton’s NHL bubble means more tournaments will be hosted in the city. Earlier this month, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced that Rogers Place in the city’s downtown will play host to the 2021 world junior championships in a similar bubble approach, without fans in attendance.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said Monday the success was due in part to advanced planning and really close collaboration between the organizing group and public health.
“We were able to set out protocols that would protect public health, as well as providing advice to what would keep the players and staff in that tournament safe,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
“I think that the ability to have a strict bubble that was enforced, combined with testing that was done — I think those were all things that worked well. The ability of private pay testing to have those tests not a part of our public system and not contributing to any of the wait times in the public system were helpful.
“Our number one priority for any event will be that it would not jeopardize the public’s health, but also that we’re able to utilize the information we have about COVID-19 to structure a safe playing environment for everyone who’s involved.”
The NHL and Players’ Association are set to meet within the next two weeks to discuss the possibilities of what the 2020-21 season could look like, but there’s no desire to stage it entirely within quarantined bubbles.
“Certainly not for a season, of course not,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told The Associated Press on Sunday.
“Nobody is going to do that for four months or six months or something like that. Whether we could create some protected environments that people would be tested and they’d be clean when they came in and lasted for some substantially shorter period of time with people cycling in and out is one of the things I suspect we will examine.”
Mason said despite the success of the playoffs in two bubbles, given the uncertainty of the pandemic, the possibility of a full NHL season and playoff run “is still very much in jeopardy.”
“I think you sell the idea of going into a bubble for two months and playing for a championship, but next time around this could be a regular season. So I think it’s going to be a different idea or a different selling or a different pitch to go to players and potentially say, ‘Are you willing to move and be in isolation or under these circumstances for four to six months and play a regular season? And then think about doing this again for a potential playoff run?’
“I think that there’s certainly a template established here but I think that that template is going to not necessarily be what the NHL requires or wants the next time they have to consider doing something like this.”
The Oilers Entertainment Group said Sunday it would take about two days after the final game to dismantle the bubble.
–With files from The Associated Press