Wednesday, May 27, 2020
If you haven't noticed, sports have been gone lately. But, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced their plan to return yesterday, and the league will be the first of the "big four" pro sports leagues to return to action. Bettman released a 24 team playoff plan for a starting date to be determined. The most questionable thing, besides the date, is where playoff hockey will take place. Bettman mentioned 10 potential "hub cities", where 12 of the playoff teams will travel to and play their games. The potential cities/states/provinces are the following, in alphabetical order:
Edmonton, Alberta (CA)
Las Vegas, Nevada
Los Angeles, California
Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Toronto, Ontario (CA)
Vancouver, British Columbia (CA)
The teams that travel to which hub city will be based on conference, so you would assume that an Eastern Conference city will host the eastern conference and vice versa for the West, but that was not specifically confirmed yet. Seven of the ten cities mentioned are the home of Western Conference teams, but that could be due to the fact that the East teams are much closer to each other than the generally spread out West. The following ranking of these cities are based on surplus of arenas, how close the cities are to other teams' cities, population density, and of course, COVID-19 cases.
The point of finding the right hub city is for the city to be big, but not too big. Chicago falls into the too big category. The city is big, so there will be a lot of hotels for players to stay at, and many other NHL cities are fairly close, including St. Louis, Nashville, and another city much higher on the list. Cook County, which holds Chicago, has reported nearly 63,700 coronavirus cases so far, and Chicago also happens to be one of the densest cities in America.
9. Los Angeles
I think an interesting argument for L.A. is that besides the Kings' Staples Center, the Ducks' Honda Center is a 35 minute drive away, making it possible for two arenas to be in play. We don't really know if only NHL game stadiums will be used, as without fans, practice facilities could be in play, although the conditions probably don't compare. Los Angeles suffers the same fate as Chicago. It is also a city with a very high population density, and has a lot of cases (43,000 county wide). There are teams like the Coyotes and Golden Knights that are close, but the fact that all three California-based teams missed the playoffs likely will take this out of consideration quickly.
8. Las Vegas
After Chicago and Los Angeles, there isn't really a city included that is a big no for me. Vegas is close to cities like Denver and Glendale/Phoenix, but also would be a big travel for teams in western Canada and the mid-west. Also, there are less rinks compared to other cities in North America. There is a lot of hotels, making that a big plus. With under 8,000 cases in Nevada, getting infected is not a huge risk, even with the city's high popularity.
The hub of the hockey world would make sense for a hub city. However, a high population density and over 10,000 cases city-wide will likely be the city's downfall. Another potential issue that I don't know how much will factor into it is visas. Most of the teams in the playoffs are American, so many more players will have to get a work visa in Canada for the time they are in a different country, compared to if the Canadian teams have to come down. Even if that isn't an issue, Toronto's big city nature hurts them. However, other Ontarian cities like Hamilton and Ottawa have facilities that could be in use, and many teams are only a couple of hours away (via plane).
Having Dallas at six and Vegas at eight may be a reach, since both cities have similar cases. Vegas' big advantage is that there are more cases in Dallas County than the state of Nevada. However, Dallas' advantage is that cities like St. Louis and Nashville are much closer, while it is also close to Denver and Arizona, the two places that make Vegas a good potential city.
Another Canadian city, Vancouver lies in British Columbia, a province with only about 2,500 confirmed cases. Just recently home to the NHL draft, I don't think they would be the hosts again, but the lack of cases make it a strong possibility. However, not many teams are close to Vancouver, as it happens to be a flight distance of an hour and a half to the next closest playoff hockey city.
The best Canadian contestant, I think that Edmonton will be the runner-up for the Western host. If they really wanted to, the NHL could split the games with Calgary, although they didn't mention it and the cities are about a three hour car ride apart. Being in Canada, the Canucks, Flames and Jets, as well as the hometown Oilers will not have an issue with Edmonton (once the Jets find an out of town airport), but American teams will.
The first line of last place city is (and I literally copied and pasted it) "The point of finding the right hub city is for the city to be big, but not too big." Columbus may be that perfect city. My runner up for the Eastern Conference, only 5,500 cases have been confirmed in Franklin County. Columbus doesn't have the population of Chicago or Los Angeles, and many teams are stationed fairly close to it, including Carolina, both New York teams, Philadelphia and New Jersey. But, the closest city is much better, and at number one on the list
2. Minneapolis/St. Paul
Which city goes first and second doesn't really matter, as I think that both will be chosen, I just ranked them based off of best fit. The home of the Wild is close to teams like St. Louis, Chicago, and even Nashville and Winnipeg. Its big downside is that it is not close to the west coast teams, but you would have that problem no matter what. Under 2,000 cases have been confirmed in Ramsey County as well. Also, Minnesota is literally the state of hockey.
The home of the Penguins, who won two Stanley Cups last decade, Pittsburgh is very similar to Columbus, but has everything that Columbus has in its favor. In Allegheny County, there are under 2,000 confirmed cases, over twice as less than Columbus' Franklin County. Columbus is one of the Eastern Conference's most western teams, and Pittsburgh, while still on the west side of that, is more eastern, and closer to Philadelphia, New York, Carolina and Boston, as well as Columbus itself. I would be very surprised if Pittsburgh is not one of the two hub cities that the NHL chooses.