VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — It might not happen for a few more months, but hockey fans may once again be watching live games and better yet, they may be hosted in Vancouver.
As part of a hub city scenario, the Vancouver Canucks have told the NHL they’re interested in being one of the host sites if or when the league decides to bring the game back. The scenario is the workaround solution to deal with the travel that’s not allowed right now because of the pandemic.
There would be four central hubs and each city represents each division — two in the Western and Eastern conferences. Vancouver is just one city but Edmonton and Raleigh have also been rumoured.
“The hub city proposal does not include fans. This would be about all the teams in the Pacific Division essentially playing out of Vancouver,” explains Sat Shah, co-host of The Program on Sportsnet 650. “There would be multiple games being played out of rinks in Vancouver, whether that’s Rogers Arena or elsewhere, and those teams wouldn’t have to travel — they could stay in hotels and potentially have their families with them as well. This is all about being able to pull off playing games in isolation without running into risks of COVID-19 running rampant in the league.”
Canucks confirm they have interest in hosting games if the NHL moves forward with the hub city scenario, as long as it can be done safely and with the approval of health authorities
— Satiar Shah (@SatiarShah) May 5, 2020
It’s one thing if there’s no fans in the arenas, but what about the players. How safe is it really to have them so close to each other?
“It all comes down to two things. The first one is do you have enough testing capacity and that capacity issue goes beyond just private enterprises wanting testing capacity, it comes down to local health authorities, the province and, of course, the federal government. So, can you find a way to get tests and not take away from the public demand and needs — that’s the first thing. The second thing being can you pull off this off and provide as safe a possible environment for these players and also their families? In theory, this is something health experts have said that if you have daily testing, then you don’t have as many issues when it comes to the close proximity of the virus being passed from person to person. But you would still have to take precautions like having a bigger visor or taking other measures when it comes to staff. But if you do testing on a daily basis and as long as it doesn’t take away from local resources, there is a way to do this without the virus spreading within a locker room.”
Shah also reminds fans, hockey is a business and the decisions being made by the league isn’t just based on science, but money.
“… because the season has been cut short and each team had anywhere from 12 to 13 games remaining plus the playoffs, that means you’re not getting revenue from the tickets and the other issue being the TV money that’s already been paid now has to be credited for next season. So, suddenly the NHL would be owing the TV companies free content next year. So, not only are you losing revenue this year, you’re potentially losing revenue next season and when you look at how the salary cap is structured and how important that revenue stream is to how the league conducts itself, then you understand this is essentially about money. They’re not going to do something that’s unsafe that doesn’t get the approval from local health authorities but the motivating factor here is money.”
Regardless of what rink hosts games, the financial cost may not be viable for teams who are losing and have lost so much money.
“I would imagine… but generally speaking if people are going to be renting out the arenas to play multiple games in it, there would be a fee to the arena for the usage because you still have to flood the rink, you still have to use electricity at the rink and all the services to do this even if fans aren’t there. I imagine there would be a level of compensation towards the Canucks or owner Francesco Aquilini, if the facility is used by multiple teams as a hub city.”
As bad as people want live sports to come back, it’s also worth questioning why the league doesn’t just cancel the 2019-20 season and plan for the fall.
“To me, the best-case scenario to see games played wouldn’t be until mid-July or August at the earliest and that’s why you’re hearing the NHL trying to push the draft up to June because they understand we could be going months upon months before there’s any other NHL content,” adds Shah.
Shah says the league needs about a month just to get games going. Two weeks to get players in quarantine when they return to their respective cities, two to three weeks to hold a training camp so the NHL needs to make a decision about finishing the current season by about mid-June at the very latest.
The Canucks (36-27-6) last played a game on March 10th, beating the New York Islanders in a shoot-out 5-4.
The only two times in league history the NHL has not awarded the Stanley Cup were in 1919 because of the Spanish Flu and in 2005 because of the 2004-05 NHL lockout.