Welcome to the Canadian bubble. The NHL finally selected Edmonton and Toronto as the two hub cities, aka the “Secure Zone” bubble, that will host the Stanley Cup playoffs and 24-team tournament. Toronto, Ontario will host the Eastern Conference, while the Western Conference will be based in Edmonton, Alberta.
In a couple of days, the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) will vote to approve the Secure Zone and the bubble plans. The return-to-play package also includes a CBA extension.
Once players vote on the finalized plans, the NHL will go ahead with Phase 3 (of 4) of its reopening plan, which includes starting training camps in the Secure Zone. The 24-team playoffs will begin approximately two weeks after training camp begins.
Both the Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9) and Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9) were eligible for the 24-team postseason restart. According to a recent update from the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, the Maple Leafs are 20/1 odds to win the 2020 Stanley Cup. The Oilers are 40/1 odds to win the Cup.
A July 31 Return to the Ice
Training camps could begin as early as July 31 in order to declare a Stanley Cup champion by October. Travel to hub cities and the Secure Zone will commence on July 25.
Teams will have until then to trim down their rosters to 31 players. They are allowed to bring 21 additional coaches and staff to the bubble for a total traveling party of 52. Everyone inside the bubble will be tested with daily nasal swabs. Other safety measures will include multiple temperature checks per day.
Players are required to test negative three times in a row within a 48-hour period before they will be allowed on the plane to whisk them off to their respective hub cities. Families won’t be able to penetrate the bubble until the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals.
Players will be able to opt out without penalty from the league. The deadline for opt outs will be three days after the NHLPA approves of the return-to-play package.
TSN reported that the NHL declared that masks will be mandatory in the Secure Zone.
“A cloth or surgical mask is required to be worn by any individual in the bubble when outside of their hotel room,” said TSN. “Masks may be removed during exercise and play on the ice, as well as when eating and/or drinking. Coaches are not required to wear masks on the bench; on-ice officials are not required to wear masks during games.”
The NHL expects to conduct 2,000 daily tests to ensure a safe environment. Teams that fail to comply with safety measures could potentially lose draft picks.
Great Northern Secure Zone
Last month, the NHL had narrowed down its search from 10 potential hub cities to the final six. At the time, Vancouver had the inside track to become one of the host cities. However, health officials in British Columbia and in Vancouver advised it wouldn’t be in the best interest of their citizens to host the NHL playoffs and tournament.
Citing public health and the protection of the people, Vancouver withdrew itself from consideration as a hub city.
At that point, the NHL had five remaining options for the Secure Zone. They had to pick two out of the remaining cities: Chicago, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Toronto.
The NHL initially eyed Las Vegas, a favorite stop for players due to its luxury hotels and amenities, but a recent surge in coronavirus cases in the Southwest made the league cautious.
The NHL also lost interest in Los Angeles as a potential hub. Officials quickly crossed LA off the list when COVID-19 cases began to surge in Southern California with LA specifically designated as a dangerous hotspot.
That left Chicago as the last American city in the running for the playoff bubble. In the end, however, the NHL opted to return-to-play north of the border, where officials believe that players and staff will be safer than they would be in the USA.