Toronto, Edmonton likely to be hub cities when NHL postseason starts

©Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

STEVEN M. FALK/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS

MINNEAPOLIS — Toronto and Edmonton will reportedly be named NHL hub cities if the season resumes later this summer, a return that’s still a work in progress, although talks seem to be escalating toward a resolution.

The players union and the league have been working on protocols for training camp, a 24-team tournament to award the Stanley Cup that includes the Wild, and an extension for the collective bargaining agreement. A tentative agreement was reached Monday. Negotiations appear to have resolved many issues, according to TSN, and a vote among players could happen this weekend.

It’s possible players signed to a contract since the NHL was paused March 12 by the coronavirus pandemic won’t be eligible to compete the rest of the season, a potential ruling that would prohibit prized prospect Kirill Kaprizov from joining the Wild even if he signed.

That’s been the NHL’s stance, to proceed without what it described as “ringers.” The league does have to consult the NHL Players’ Association, but TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported he’s under the impression these players won’t be allowed to play.

Nothing, however, is guaranteed until both sides approve a restart.

Under the format the NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed upon in May, the top four teams from each conference will play in a round robin to determine first-round seeding and the remaining eight teams will square off against each other in a best-of-five series to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Toronto will reportedly house the Eastern Conference teams and Edmonton the Western. Although each city has a team competing, the league has said players from the host city will adhere to the same accommodations as everyone else.

Players and staff are expected to be sequestered in hotels and practice and play in a “bubble” atmosphere, with no fans at games because of the pandemic.

Teams will be limited to 50 personnel in each hub city, and only a small number of support staff will be allowed to enter the event areas. By the time games potentially return, players will be tested every evening and results will be available the next morning before they leave their hotel room.

Commissioner Gary Bettman previously said the selection of sites will be dependent on COVID-19 conditions, testing ability and government regulations, all of which explain Canada’s appeal.

The Canadian government recently announced the NHL would be exempt from the current 14-day quarantine required of those crossing the border into Canada. Instead, players would be kept away from the general public and screened regularly. Cases in the country also have been mostly on the decline.

Meanwhile in the United States, some states are being ravaged by outbreaks. Las Vegas was long hyped to be a front-runner to host the NHL, but cases in Nevada are on the rise and one model pegs the state’s transmission rate as the highest in the country.

Vancouver was also in the running, but its bid apparently fizzled when health officials and the league couldn’t agree on how to handle a positive test.

Overall, 10 locations were under consideration when the league revealed its return-to-play plan on May 26.

Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh were the others in contention, along with Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Although there’s a lack of high-end hotel rooms near Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota figured to be in the mix because of the number of hockey rinks in the Twin Cities. The area was also vetted by the league not too long ago to host the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day in 2021 at Target Field. It’s unclear what impact the May 25 killing of George Floyd and civil unrest that followed had on Minnesota’s chances.

The Wild is set to face the Canucks in a best-of-five qualifying matchup should the season continue as planned.

Team facilities, including Tria Rink in St. Paul, have been open for voluntary, small-group workouts capped at 12 players per session. The NHL said Monday 15 players out of more than 250 who reported to train at team rinks have tested positive; another 11 players who aren’t skating at team sites also have tested positive since June 8.

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©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)