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There’s no ‘bid book’ you have to produce to become an NHL Hub City to play host to as many as half the games of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.
There’s no trip to Monte Carlo to deliver a 15-minute pitch like the one Premier Ralph Klein produced to win the 2001 World Championships in Athletics for Edmonton.
But his contemporary, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in taking questions at the conclusion of a press conference Tuesday, was asked about an Edmonton bid to secure a bulk of the games here and definitely delivered the pitch.
“I think we are the safest place they could find in the continent to come,” he proclaimed.
Kenney didn’t mention the city reported one positive COVID-19 test from the 2,172 taken throughout the long weekend. Or the six positive tests over the nine days prior to that from a total of more than 6,600 tests.
But if safety of the players, referees, linesmen and everybody involved is indeed the NHL’s No. 1 priority, Kenney certainly emphasized that first and foremost.
“First of all, in terms of Alberta having been a star performer in North America on the public health response for the pandemic, particularly here in Edmonton, I think we’re down to 50 active cases in this population, in greater Edmonton, of 1.2 million people,” he said.
The Premier added only a “handful of people are in hospital where hundreds of acute care beds have been set aside for COVID patients.”
Another point he made was that “we have the highest per capita testing in North America, if not the world.”
He then made reference to the ability to keep those involved in a bubble.
“We have one of the best facilities — I would say the best facility — with the brand new Rogers Place Arena. It is attached to a brand new hotel,” he said of the J.W. Marriott connected to the arena by a pedway. “All of the services are right there to be safely integrated in a protected zone that would keep the players and staff insulated. So I think we have a very strong pitch to make.”
A bid book would have featured the calibre and number of dressing rooms, the practice rink within the complex and the fact Edmonton’s ice was rated by the NHL Players’ Association as second in the league to the Bell Centre in Montreal, and had something of a test event for this with last year’s hosting of the eight-nation Hlinka-Gretzky Cup U-18 event.
Kenney pushed another thought.
“The beating heartbeat of hockey and the NHL is the Canadian Prairies. I can’t imagine a better place to come to than the home of the Edmonton Oilers or this province that has done so much for the sport of hockey and for the NHL for decades. It just makes so much sense, so we will be making a significant pitch.”
A big question to many is why you’d really want to become an Stanley Cup playoff Hub City when the fans would not be able to go to any games. Or how there would be very little economic impact in playing host to likely three games a day in the empty building throughout the summer.
But Kenney said he believes there would be big benefits.
“It would be great for this province. We’re going to need to kick start our tourism industry as we come out of the pandemic and I can’t imagine a better way than for tens of millions of people to see the NHL playoffs coming out of Edmonton, Alberta.”
The NHL, which at one point had almost half the teams in the league expressing interest, recently indicated it was down to seven or eight possible hubs, including Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton in Canada, and Las Vegas in the United States.
The NHL’s Return To Play Committee, which includes Oilers captain Connor McDavid, has been working toward a format to complete the regular season schedule and, according to sources. has been focusing on a 24-team plan involving two 12-team hubs and play-in series before the traditional four rounds of best-of-seven series. There was no news out of an NHL board of governors meeting Monday.
It was interesting that earlier on Tuesday, Canada and the U.S. announced an extension to keep the border closed for another month to June 21. Many figured that might be a major blow to any plans along these lines. But NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was quick to respond via e-mail that he didn’t believe that would be the case.
“I am hopeful that today’s announcement will not have a material impact on our Return to Play discussions and timeline.”
Kenney suggested it was still a go for him.
“We continue to work very closely with the Edmonton Oilers franchise,” he said of the proposal. “I look forward to speaking to commissioner Bettman, hopefully later this week, about all of that.”
Edmonton mayor Don Iveson was already one step ahead, having sent an official letter of support to the commissioner one week ago.
“I’m thrilled to lend my support for the Oilers Entertainent Group bid to be a host/hub city for the NHL’s resumption of play,” Iveson posted Tuesday on Twitter, along with a copy of the letter. “We hope the NHL will consider bringing back hockey to one of Canada’s great hockey cities.”
To me, the NHL still appears to be a long way from declaring ‘Game on.’ But if it’s on, Kenney and Iveson have left little doubt.
Edmonton is in.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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