- The National Hockey League will resume play with 22 teams in early August.
- All games will be played in one of two ‘hub cities’, likely to be Toronto and Edmonton.
- NHL leadership has confirmed that a spike in COVID-19 cases led them to eliminate Las Vegas from hub city consideration.
When the National Hockey League named Toronto and Edmonton as ‘hub cities’ to host the restart of their 2020 playoffs it was something of a shock for Las Vegas. All along in the selection process it looked to be a favorite to host NHL action including the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, an inside source gave them the tip on June 25 that it was a done deal.
Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t. Ultimately, the NHL selected Edmonton, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario as the hub cities for the restart. In Las Vegas, speculation quickly pointed to the area’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases as the reason that the NHL took the action North of the Border. On Saturday, league officials confirmed that was indeed the case. The league featured Commisioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly, NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr and NHLPA Special Assistant Mathieu Schneider in a video conference answering questions about the process.
Deputy Commissioner Daly confirmed that the Southern Nevada COVID-19 spike was a reason the NHL passed over Las Vegas as a hub city:
“I can say it was certainly one of the reasons. I would say that from the start we had very clear and transparent conversations with people in Vegas, and that was true until the end. Obviously, we understand some of the advantages of Vegas and some of the abilities to create the bubble tighter than it might be in other locations.”
“But the fact that the COVID rate was spiking outside of what would be the bubble was a concern for us. We certainly had that conversation with the Vegas people.”
Commissioner Bettman affirmed that creating a safe environment for players was a paramount concern:
“In the final analysis, making sure we were in as free of a COVID-19 environment as possible became paramount.”
Daly reiterated the importance of protecting player health and safety and how it cost Las Vegas a chance to host the playoffs:
”At the end of the day, as Gary said from the start, we wanted to pick two hub cities that were really the best from a health and safety standpoint. And we were concerned given what was happening in Vegas that that was not the case there. That certainly led into the decision we made.”
Nevada wasn’t among the hardest hit states at the outset of the pandemic. It began to see a rise in cases in early June after the state’s gaming industry returned from a 72 day shutdown. Now the state infection rate has increased in 23 of the past 24 days to around 7.75% after bottoming out at 5.20% on June 17. On Friday, the state recorded 1,004 new cases of COVID-19 which was only the second time that number has been in excess of 1000. It was the second highest jump in cases behind only June 26. Clark County–Nevada’s most populous county and home to Las Vegas, Henderson and Laughlin–recorded 827 new cases.
Canada has done a much more effective job than the United States at getting a handle on the coronavirus. In the past 7 days, Edmonton reported an average of 116 new cases daily while Ontario reported 130 new cases on Saturday with 42 from the Toronto metro area.