The NHL’s Return to Play plan hasn’t been without its hurdles and as COVID-19 cases begin to ramp back up in some states, the league has decided to focus on two Canadian hub cities to host the 2020 playoffs. Reports from TSN’s Bob McKenzie and ESPN’s Emily Kaplan indicate that Edmonton and Toronto will likely be winning those rights, though nothing will be made official until the players vote on the league’s proposal to return.
Despite the league’s favorable relationship with Vegas, having hosted league events previously, climbing coronavirus cases in Nevada seem to have scared the league off. Earlier reports were that the league was aiming for one Canadian hub and one American hub, but that only left Chicago and Los Angeles in the running for the US. Though Illinois has done well in containing the virus, the city isn’t exactly the most convenient in terms of creating an NHL bubble. As for LA, the majority of COVID cases and deaths have been in Los Angeles County.
No official determination has been made on whether the host cities will host their own or the opposite Conference. Given how few advantages any team will be getting, it seems like that the league would have them swap, as the Oilers and Maple Leafs will both be playing in the Qualifying Round prior to the first round of playoffs.
The good news for the league is that the Canadian government won’t subject NHL players to the same quarantining and travel restrictions, and as Kaplan pointed out, it is cheaper to put on games in Canada.
Time is running out to plans to change, as mandatory training camps are set to begin on July 10, though that may be pushed back to July 13. Currently, players are allowed to train in voluntary small group sessions at their team facilities.