Report: NHL identifying neutral-site rinks, locations for potential return

Like most professional sports leagues hammering away at potential solutions and return-to-play scenarios in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, the NHL is reportedly scouting neutral-site locations for use to complete — or find a conclusion to — its paused season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Sunday that Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota — a location that has held many major tournaments including the 2005 World Junior Championship — could be an option for the league should it determine that using one or several neutral sites is the most appropriate way to continue the season.

John Shannon furthered Friedman’s report Monday, tweeting that Manchester, New Hampshire, is also a potential location the NHL has considered.

There would be many significant logistical hurdles to clear, but the idea is that teams would limit travel and exposure by descending on one or several locations, tournament-style. Friedman reports that the league could complete its regular season and start into the playoffs from the neutral site. But with nearly 200 regular-season games still to be played, the more likely scenario — if hockey can resume at all — is that the NHL amends its schedule or format, and an appropriate end to the season is achieved through different means.

The NBA is reportedly considering the same strategy and has identified Las Vegas as the preferred controlled venue, while the English Premier League has reached “a tentative agreement” to begin finishing its season at a single location in June, and without fans.

Trump meets with pro sports commissioners

All major North American professional sports leagues participated in a conference call with U.S. president Donald Trump over the weekend to discuss options and timelines amid the outbreak. Trump reportedly expressed hope to the commissioners of having fans back in seats by August or September, and he advised the NFL to continue preparations to begin its season on time.

With the NHL being adamant that next season, if possible, will remain whole and unaffected by the ongoing challenges to public health, it still seems more likely than not that the integrity of the season will be severely compromised.

However, it seems the league would take the most significant steps toward finding some sort of conclusion to the season through the use of neutral sites.

It would remove concerns around the buildings and municipalities, which have every right to make their own decisions based on their own public-health statuses and progress through this pandemic. It would also offer the greatest possible protection to the players, staff, and partner broadcasters, limit the strain on localized essential services, while also limiting costs for the NHL — which is facing major financial losses that will impact the way the league operates.

While taking the NHL to neutral sites might be the only way to rescue the season, health officials will have to determine that there’s a measure of control over the outbreak before it could ever move forward with the plan.

Professional leagues will have to use a significant amount of medical resources in order to re-launch in any capacity, and taking those resources from those in dire need right now would be irresponsible and simply inexcusable on the part of governments and big businesses.

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