NHL seeking shelter in Canada from coronavirus

Dan Wetzel
·Columnist
·5 min read

When the NHL first revealed its plan to resume competition amidst the coronavirus pandemic, it listed 10 potential sites that could serve as “hub cities.” The league’s 24 playoff teams would be divided so playoff games could be contested under as close to a bubble as possible.

That included seven spots in the United States — Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh. Three more were in Canada: Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver. Non-NHL cities, such as communities in North Dakota, had originally been considered but dropped.

There was a lot of speculation that at least one, if not both hubs, would be in America, where 24 of its 31 franchises reside and the NHL is forever desperate to tap into a bigger, broader market of fans. Las Vegas was considered a shoe-in. Columbus had a lot of buzz.

Turns out it’s the opposite.

With coronavirus cases continuing to surge in the United States, the NHL is reportedly going to head north of the border in an attempt to save the season. Bob McKenzie, the hockey insider for Canadian-based TSN, reported Wednesday that Edmonton and Toronto would serve as the hubs if the playoffs resume later this summer.

The league’s deal with the player’s union still needs to be ratified, but hub location isn’t expected to be a sticking point.

Essentially, the coronavirus, or America’s handling of it, sent the league to Canada.

The U.S. has had 2.7 million cases of the virus resulting in about 130,000 deaths. That included the June 30 totals of 46,042 cases and 764 dead, according to data provided by worldometers.info. The country is consistently either hitting or flirting with new daily highs.

Canada, meanwhile, has suffered through 104,000 cases and 8,591 deaths, including just 286 and 25 respectively on Tuesday.

The U.S. is a far more populous country, of course, with an estimated population of 328 million compared to Canada’s 38 million.

TORONTO, ON- JUNE 30  - Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs is still in the running to see professional hockey as Toronto remains in the running to be one of the NHL hub cities. Toronto moves into phase two with the rest of Ontario as the province tries to slow the spread of COVID-19  in Toronto. June 30, 2020.        (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Scotiabank Arena, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, will reportedly be one of the two hubs the NHL uses to re-open its season. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Canada’s death rate is about 58 percent of the U.S. though. It’s infection rate is about one-third. In the two hardest hit provinces — Ontario and Quebec — the Canadian government says 36 percent of travel related cases arrived from America, by far the highest country. The border between the two nations has been closed since March 21.

Moreover, the total number of current infections and the daily rate of positive tests have decreased for weeks in Canada. That isn’t the case in the U.S.

While the death rate has steadily dropped in the U.S., that isn’t a major concern for sports leagues looking for a safe place to play. Extremely healthy young athletes are unlikely to die even if they get the virus.

The goal is to limit positive cases so the games can continue to be played. That means Canada.

The 268 confirmed cases there on Tuesday is lower than 31 states. Nebraska, with a population of 1.9 million had 278. Nevada, home to Las Vegas, of course, had 562. Its five highest daily totals all came in the last week and its transmission rate of 1.56 is the highest in the country. Not even a slew of high-end hotels surrounding T-Mobile Arena could overcome that.

While Canadians are spread out in a vast country (its 3.8 million square miles is roughly the size of the United States), Edmonton and Toronto are bigger metro areas. Toronto’s population is about equal to Atlanta (5.9 million).

Yet the virus isn’t (comparatively) a major problem there. Toronto FC of Major League Soccer reported not a single player or staff member tested positive this week.

Canada has just done a better job. The Province of Nova Scotia has no confirmed cases. Zero. Community spread rates are far lower. Masks and other precautions are commonplace.

No, nothing is perfect, but the federal and provincial governments worked in concert in ways that are implausible in America. Dr. Bonnie Henry out of British Columbia is something of a national hero and her motto — “Be Kind. Be Calm. Be Safe.” — has taken off.

Simply put, this was a no brainer for the NHL, especially since the league hopes to complete the playoffs during the warmed summer and fall months that allow Canadians to remain mostly outdoors.

For hockey fans, the location of the games isn’t particularly important. This is a television product only. Certainly, having 12 teams bring a traveling party of 50 — plus league personnel — to a city would create a bump for hotels, catering and others. Still, it’s not that big of a deal.

The NHL can’t risk it though. Argue about whatever reason you want, given the choice between attempting this already fraught-with-disaster idea of staging the Stanley Cup Playoffs in two hub cities, the choice was easy.

Sorry America.

Happy Canada Day.

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