Could “Hockey Night In Canada” return as … “Hockey Night In Edmonton?”
That could very well be the case, as the NHL ponders a return to televised professional hockey this summer.
The current favourites are the home rinks for the Carolina Hurricanes (Metropolitan Division), Edmonton Oilers (Pacific Division) and Minnesota Wild (Central Division). A front-runner from the Atlantic Division has yet to emerge.
Yes, the Alberta capital, known for its silver balls, green onion pancakes and beloved river boat (that tragically sank this week) could be the only Canadian city to host NHL games for the rest of 2020.
WATCH: Could sports return this summer? Story continues below.
Sorry, Toronto. You can’t have everything.
According to the reports, the league would have teams from each division play televised games in the four cities, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“The particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hotspot and has everything we need in terms of the arena and having practice facilities, because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel, there does need to be ice for practice,” he said during a news conference Wednesday.
Bettman said the league is considering cities that have extensive hockey facilities, but haven’t been as hard-hit by COVID-19 as others.
There’s reportedly a running list of at least 10 possible cities, but there’s been no confirmation if any other Canadian locales made the list. A source from the Winnipeg Jets said despite its relative distance from major COVID-19 outbreaks, the Manitoba capital was not being considered.
Edmonton has largely avoided huge COVID-19 impacts. Of Alberta’s two urban centres, the Calgary zone has 2,396 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while Edmonton has only 451, as of Wednesday.
Also, 42 of the 66 deaths in Alberta occurred in Calgary while there are only nine in Edmonton. The infection growth curve in Edmonton has also largely flattened. Despite the rigorous testing happening across the province, the capital only saw one new case Wednesday, and less than 50 new cases over the past week. It also only has one major outbreak centre — a single long-term care home — compared to the large-scale outbreaks in long-term care and food processing facilities faced by other cities.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday that Bettman had reached out to him about the current state of the COVID-19 fight in the province and Edmonton.
“He wanted to ask some questions about Alberta’s status in combatting COVID,” Kenney said. “There was some very general conversation. We have not received a formal proposal of any kind. I underscored that if a proposal were forthcoming we would obviously expect the league to prepare a very detailed plan to mitigate risk.”
But there are some big hurdles to clear before it’s hockey night in Edmonton.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said any proposal from the league to host NHL games in Alberta would have to align with ongoing public health efforts.
“We have very clear requirements under the public health measures that are now in place and so as we look at the future and look at that relaunch, things may shift and change based on our epidemiology and where our numbers are,” Hinshaw said. “So whatever those orders are and the requirements are, we’d be looking for a proposal that lines up with those.”
The league has suggested any games would be held in empty or nearly-empty arenas. Considerations would have to be taken around sports bars and gathering spaces, as well as limited travel of outside fans who want to flock to Alberta to be close to the action.
While some Edmontonians are excited about the potential return of hockey, others are worried about the chance of it spurring an outbreak.
There’s also the not inconsequential matter of the U.S.-Canada border. Teams and players travelling from both countries would have to be cleared to cross in order to play in these select cities.
Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump struck a deal to extend border restrictions at least another 30 days. Even after it is finally re-opened, inter-border travel could still be subject to 14-day quarantines or other restrictions.
Bettman said the league will have a better idea of future plans in May, but any return would require at least a few weeks of “training camps” for players to return to playing condition.
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