NHL hub cities: Which are best equipped to host hockey in a pandemic

When the NHL first announced plans in May to salvage its season, it "only" had the health limitations of a global pandemic to contend with. A lot has changed since the league announced the 10 locations it might use as hub cities to resume its season and playoffs.

CBC Sports looks at the health and societal restrictions that should be considered

(Alexis Allison/CBC Sports)

When the NHL first announced plans in May to salvage its season, it "only" had the health limitations of a global pandemic to contend with. 

A lot has changed since the league announced the 10 cities it might use as hubs to resume its season and playoffs.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer (who has been charged with second degree murder) has caused protests across the globe. 

Many athletes and organizations from across the sports spectrum have made their voices heard, some whose lives have been directly impacted by institutional and societal anti-Black racism.

Floyd's death came at a unique moment in the world of North American sports — one temporarily paused by COVID-19. There was no diversion or big game to shift the attention away from what happened.

WATCH | The hurdles of choosing hub cities in a pandemic:

The hurdles of choosing a hub city during a pandemic

3 years ago
Duration 3:01
While the NHL tries to narrow down the list of hub cities from ten to two, Rob Pizzo looks at the problems they face.

Many of the cities in which the NHL is considering resuming play have been seized by massive protests over police brutality against the Black community and other minorities. Against this unprecedented backdrop, professional leagues, including the NHL, remain intent on resuming seasons.

For weeks, leagues have been floating scenarios that would see games played in empty stadiums while at the same time protecting players by keeping them in one central location and providing a rigorous testing program. Both the NBA and Major League Soccer have announced plans to resume play at Disney World in Florida.

Of the NHL's 10 candidate cities, all possess the logistical requirements — arenas, hotels, etc. — needed to house 12 teams and multiple games. For example, Vancouver could host teams at Rogers Arena and at the Pacific Coliseum. In Dallas, games could be played at American Airlines Arena, home of the Dallas Stars, and H-E-B Arena, the current home of the AHL's Texas Stars.

Ahead of the NHL's decision, CBC Sports is evaluating the candidates across a wider spectrum that attempts to capture the situation facing the populations as officials contemplate bringing a professional hockey tournament to their cities.

CBC Sports examined the following criteria:

  • Number of current COVID-19 cases
  • Current quarantine rules and public restrictions 
  • What local politicians are saying about NHL hockey in coming to their cities 
  • Availability of public testing 
  • What access local youth have to organized sports.


Vancouver has seen the lowest COVID-19 mortality rate of all jurisdictions in North America. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Number of current cases: The latest numbers from provincial health officials show that B.C has been successful in flattening the COVID-19 curve. B.C. has the lowest mortality rate of any jurisdiction in North America or Western Europe with a population of more than five million. In the city of Vancouver there have been 905 total cases. Across the entire province, 32 people are currently in hospital and seven are in critical care.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: The province of B.C., including Vancouver, has a public health order limiting the size of gatherings to 50 people. Last week, the city's park board reopened more than 320 outdoor recreation amenities including skate parks, synthetic sports fields, basketball and volleyball courts, disc golf, roller hockey, multisport courts and 166 playgrounds. The facilities are available for casual use only. Organized competitive play or training will not be permitted at this time

What politicians/public officials are saying: B.C. health officer Bonnie Henry signed off on an amended quarantine proposal on Wednesday, potentially paving the way for the NHL to pick Vancouver.  Premier John Horgan announced the decision, saying "if you are bringing your family to somewhere in North America for the summer months to spend time while you played hockey, I can't think of a better place than British Columbia." Horgan also noted modified restrictions that would see each team be treated as its own bubble and no public interaction for a 14-day quarantine period. Teams would be responsible for their own testing.

WATCH | B.C. premier signs off on revised Vancouver plan:

B.C. Premier signs off on revised NHL hub city plan

3 years ago
Duration 2:04
An amended quarantine proposal could pave the way for the NHL to choose Vancouver as a hub city.

Henry had earlier wavered on the idea of Vancouver as a hub city. She initially said the province wouldn't "bend the rules" for the NHL. Her position had evolved since then, saying "I do see how we could potentially have small numbers of people cohort together and in self-isolation, for example in a hotel and management monitoring regularly. And I know if anybody could do that, then the NHL is probably set up to do it. So I can see how we could have something like that work in British Columbia as well."

Availability of testing: According to the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, "Testing is available for all who need it but not everyone requires a test."

Status of summer youth sports: B.C. Baseball continues its suspension of all in-person baseball activity for youth programs across the province. B.C. Soccer has announced a set of return to play protocols and under strict conditions, limited activity can resume beginning no earlier than June 12.


Toronto is still registering between 100 and 200 new cases a day. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

Number of current cases: Toronto has been one of the hardest hit cities in Canada. There have been more than 12,000 cases in total and there are currently more than 2,000 active cases, with more than 300 people hospitalized. To date, 944 people have died. Unlike Vancouver, Toronto is still registering between 100 and 200 new cases every day.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: As of June 12, the number of people who don't live in the same household that can legally gather will be increased to 10 from its current five. At the same time, Toronto has been exempted from Stage 2 of the province's reopening plan as the city still has not completely flattened the curve of new cases. The city has reopened most park amenities including sports facilities, but permits for soccer fields and baseball diamonds remain cancelled. Also, individuals are not permitted to play, even on fields or courts intended for this purpose, unless they are members of the same household.

What politicians/public officials are saying: For all Canadian hub candidates Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, says the mandatory 14-day quarantine for people entering the country remains in place for now.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said: "I can't speak for the province but we would give [the NHL] the green light because I would be proud, I think it would be appropriate and I think [Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment] would do an excellent job of respecting public health first and foremost and putting on a spectacle that fans would welcome. But the principal consideration isn't who gives green lights, it becomes can you work out a regime and rules."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford: "We have had conversations with [the NHL] and it's all based conditional on following the chief medical officer's protocol. People that aren't in the country right now, if they do come back, they're going to have to be quarantined like everybody else for two weeks. I understand the Raptors, the NBA, and the NHL have super stringent restrictions and protocols in place.

"I think everyone wants to see a little bit of sports. If they're doing it responsibly — I love watching any sports, whether it be the NHL or Raptors or the Blue Jays — but those rules will apply to all those teams. There isn't going to be an exception."

Availability of testing: The city has recently ramped up the number of locations where residents can be tested, including a number of mobile sites. No Ontarian who is symptomatic or who is concerned they have been exposed to COVID-19 will be declined a test at an assessment centre. In theory, anyone who wants a test can receive one.

Status of summer youth sports: In some parts of Ontario, baseball and soccer teams will be allowed to begin practices starting June 12. The city of Toronto is not one of the areas of the province where this has been cleared to happen. Currently in Toronto, as per rules laid out by Baseball Ontario, no organized baseball activity is permitted until June 15. All soccer associations situated in the city of Toronto have also not been cleared to return to play.


Alberta's premier has personally appealed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow athletes to cross international borders. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Number of current cases: As of June 8, there were 103 active cases across the city. Since the beginning of April there have been just more than 450 total cases. Twelve residents have died.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: The province announced earlier this week that as of Friday, outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people will be permitted. It also announced that team sports will be allowed for up to 50 players. Indoor and outdoor recreation, fitness and sports centres, including gyms and swimming pools, will also be allowed to reopen.

What politicians/public officials are saying: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has made a hard push to ensure Edmonton is named one of the NHL's hub cities. He has personally spoken to Bettman and has encouraged the federal government, in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to mirror actions taken south of the border and exempt teams from the border restrictions.

NHL's Bill Daly: "If we're not able to really get an interpretation of the quarantine consistent with our players' ability to travel in and not have to do a strict self-quarantine in a hotel room... we won't be in a position to use any of the Canadian cities as a hub. So we're faced with having to find a solution to that. And hopefully we can."

Alberta's chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has committed to alternatives that would still observe the 14-day quarantine that is currently in place.

"What we've put together is an opportunity for a cohort quarantine, which would mean that a group that came in from international travel, such as an individual team, would have to stay together in that quarantine period and would not be able to interact with others outside of that cohort group," she said. "They would be effectively sealed off from the rest of the community.

"I want to be clear we're not talking about waiving the quarantine requirements."

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson: "We view Edmonton, with its colourful hockey history, as an ideal location to host the balance of the NHL's 2019-20 season. In the North American context, Edmonton and the surrounding region have experienced low COVID-19 infection numbers and are taking prudent steps to begin a cautious and safe reopening."

Availability of testing: Since the beginning of June, Alberta is offering testing to any resident who wants a test, regardless of symptoms. There are number of test sites located across the city.

Status of summer youth sports: If organizations are able to follow protocols set out by Soccer Alberta, teams will be able to resume training on June 12. If baseball organizations are able to abide by and implement the safety regulations set out by Baseball Alberta, teams will be able to resume training on June 15.


Chicago still has a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people. (Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press)

Number of current cases: There were 48,351 cases of COVID-19 and 2,285 deaths among Chicago residents as of June 8. This is an increase of 204 cases and 16 deaths since June 7.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: Despite recent mass protests in Chicago, a city order still exist that bans gatherings of 10 or more people. Like in Toronto, officials have recently been reopening many park amenities, but close-contact group sports such as basketball, soccer and touch football remain prohibited.

What politicians/public officials are saying: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot: "I'm really enthusiastic about the possibility of getting hockey playoffs here in Chicago. As you know, we are a hockey city. We're one of the original franchises in the league. Hockey is deeply ingrained into the sports fabric of our city and I'm going to do everything I can to support the efforts of the Blackhawks and others to bring hockey playoffs to Chicago."

Illinois Govenor J.B. Pritzker: "Many people are anxious to get our sports up and running again. The problem is we can't put spectators in the stands today. There's just no way to do that safely, according to the doctors. What the leagues have asked is not for that. What they've asked is for the ability to run games, televised, with no spectators. Even that, as you can imagine, think about two teams, all of the surrounding people who work for the team involved, it's a lot of people. We've worked with them. They've actually come up with reasonably good plans."

Availability of testing: Testing is currently available at dozens of public and private facilities across the city. To this point, testing is limited to residents with symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19.

Status of summer youth sports: Currently all youth sports in Illinois are limited to 10 players and only for drills and practices. No games are permitted.


Texas has some of the most relaxed restrictions concerning COVID-19, and will host a PGA event this weekend. (Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press)

Number of current cases: In the city of Dallas there were about 4,300 active cases as of June 8. But on that day, there were 298 new cases, the highest one-day total so far. COVID-19 has killed 271 people in Dallas.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: The state of Texas has some of the loosest restrictions in North America. Most settings, including outdoor amenities, have no limits on the number of people that can gather, including basketball courts and sports fields.

What politicians/public officials are saying: Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson: "At this point it's a public health question. But I have not been asked about [NHL's plan for hub cities.] I'm not involved in the decision-making process on this."

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced last month that professional sports can resume May 31 without spectators.

Availability of testing: Dozens of public private testing centres exist across the city. Most locations are limiting tests to those with symptoms or potential contact with somebody who may be sick.

Status of summer youth sports: Since the end of May, all youth sports programs have been allowed to practise. On June 15, teams can begin holding games or competitions, with or without spectators.


The mayor of Las Vegas came under criticism in April for wanting to reopen businesses at the height of the pandemic. (Wade Vandervort/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

Number of current cases: On Tuesday, Clark Country posted its largest single-day increase of cases in nearly three weeks. Las Vegas is located in the heart of the county.

The county recorded 207 new cases, pushing the total to 7,799. While number of cases were starting to taper off, the spike of more than 200 is reflective of some of the totals seen in mid-May, when there were 233 on May 22.

Out of the nearly 8,000 cases in Clark County, 5,950 people have recovered.

There have been 365 deaths in the county, according to district health officials. The state of Nevada has reported 8,935 cases and 429 deaths. 

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: Currently, the amount of people in a public or private gathering has been increased from 10 to no more than 50 people.

Strict public and business restrictions, as well as quarantine measures in Nevada, were put into place by Gov. Steve Sisolak on Mar. 21. The governor relaxed many of the closures weeks ago. Under Phase 1 of the state's reopening, many businesses were allowed to reopen more than a month ago beginning the week of May 9.

Nevada is now well into Phase 2 of its reopening, which began May 29, allowing most businesses to resume operations as normal, including casinos.

One the biggest challenges facing Las Vegas is the amount of guests who visit the city. Nearly 43 million visitors flocked to Sin City last year, the overwhelming majority coming from out of state and out of country. That will make it increasingly more difficult for health officials to properly trace the virus.

What politicians/public officials are saying: Municipal and state politicians have made it clear they want the city open for business as soon as possible.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was criticized in April for her comments regarding reopening the city as soon as possible. She said she wanted everything opened quickly and even offered to be a "control group" to see what happens once reopened.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak: "Nevada is a premier travel destination and will always be a warm and welcoming spot for visitors. We have strong systems in place to help protect Nevadans and our visitors."

Availability of testing: Early in the pandemic, it was reported Las Vegas residents were struggling to get tested for the virus, as was the case in many cities across America. Since then, health officials in the state have made testing more readily available.

As of mid-May, Las Vegas opened a number of testing sites across the city available to the public, including drive-thru testing. All testing sites require residents to make an appointment and residents are urged to only get tested if they are showing signs of symptoms — there will be no out-of-pocket cost to those tested, according to a release from Las Vegas officials.

Most recent numbers show 211,157 have been tested in Nevada.

Status of summer youth sports: As of right now, it's still unclear what the summer sports schedule will look like. Under the state's Phase 2 plan, the governor has said youth sports and recreation were "anticipated to open" at some point.

Currently, gyms and fitness facilities, pools and water parks, bowling alleys, indoor malls, amusement parks and mini golf are open with 50 per cent capacity and six feet of social distancing. 


Fifty per cent of California's new cases in the past two weeks have been in L.A. County. (Nick Ut/Associated Press)

Number of current cases: Most recent data shows California has 137,057 cases and 4,749 deaths. The state is currently averaging 2,795 new cases and 61 new deaths per day. More specifically, Los Angeles County has 65,957 cases and 2,710 deaths — 50 per cent of the new cases in the last two weeks have come out of the L.A. County.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: California is currently about to enter Stage 3 of its four-stage reopening plan.

Currently, lower-risk businesses are reopening with physically distanced guidelines. Retail and dine-in restaurants have reopened. Starting June 12, the state will enter Stage 3 which includes the reopening of gyms and movie theatres, as examples. Many of the parks and beaches are open to the public.

In Los Angeles County, where more than 10 million people reside, officials still have a "safer at home" order until further notice. Residents have been ordered to wear face coverings in public.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and post offices are open. Beaches and state parks are starting to reopen.

What politicians/public officials are saying: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hasn't spoken directly to the prospect of the city being an NHL hub, however, he did say in mid-April he didn't see pro sports being played in L.A. in 2021.

"It's difficult to imagine us getting together in the thousands anytime soon," he said in an interview with CNN.

Gov. Gavin Newsom was at first skeptical regarding sports taking place in the state anytime soon, but in mid-May he said that pro sports might be able to return as early as June, though he cautioned "L.A. County is in a different position than other parts of the state."

Availability of testing: Early in the pandemic California had fallen way behind when it came to testing.

That's changed. Gov. Newsom set the aggressive goal of testing upwards of 60,000 people per day in in the state.

In the first week of June, California averaged 59,236 tests per day.

Status of summer youth sports: While some jurisdictions in California are on the verge of restarting youth sports programming for the summer, in L.A. County there is still no timeline for the return of youth sports. 


Minneapolis has been the epicentre of global protests after George Floyd was killed by a city police officer since charged with second degree murder. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Number of current cases: Most recent data shows Minnesota has 28,869 confirmed cases and 1,236 deaths. There were 299 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 new deaths reported on June 9. 

In Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located, there have been 9,647 cases recorded and 693 deaths.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: On June 10, Minnesota entered Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

It allows places like movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms and pools to open to the public. Restrictions are being loosened for bars and restaurants. Social gatherings of 10 people will be permitted indoors and 25 outdoors.

Health officials in the state believe the pandemic has either plateaued or is in the stages of a downward trend in Minnesota.

What politicians/public officials are saying: Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has recently said he believes pro sports could resume play this summer in the state.

"We're working with them to get going, so I think there's a potential there that we can do that," Walz said at the end of May.

Specifically to the NHL hub idea, Walz has said they "certainly want to be a part of that."

Availability of testing: Minnesota has made testing widely available to anyone wanting to do so.

In light of the massive protests that have taken place in the Twin Cities over the past couple of weeks, officials have opened free clinics on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the next three weeks at four sites in Minneapolis and St. Paul where protests took place.

So far, approximately 369,795 Minnesotans have been tested.

Status of summer youth sports: As Minnesota enters Phase 3 of its reopening, youth sports organizations are finding ways to return to play.

State officials have just released a "Stay Safe Guidance for Sports" document that has a number of suggestions and rules for athletes, coaches and parents. The document has highlighted a number of "high risk" and "medium risk" sports and includes a list of rules to follow. 


Restaurants and bars have resumed dine-in service, casinos can reopen and most other restrictions are being lifted in Pennsylvania. (Keith Srakocic/Associated Press)

Number of current cases: Most recent data shows there are now 76,684 positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. Officials announced 410 new positive cases on June 10. There are 6,062 confirmed deaths.

In Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, there have been 2,034 recorded cases, with 172 deaths in the region.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: Most of Pennsylvania is now in what it's calling the "green" zone part of its reopening phase. It's part of a three-phase roadmap put forward by officials in the state.

Under the green phase, restaurants and bars can resume dine-in service, casinos can reopen and most other restrictions are being lifted, but basic constraints, such as limits on building capacity, remain in place.

Gatherings of more than 250 people remain prohibited. This includes most festivals, conferences and sporting events. Indoor recreation, including gyms, spas and health and wellness facilities, are now open at 50 per cent occupancy.

What politicians/public officials are saying: In late May, Gov. Tom Wolf's office issued a statement regarding pro sports being able to resume in the state if the area was in the green zone.

"Such a plan must be approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and include, among other requirements, testing or screening and monitoring of all on-venue players and personnel. Also, no fans or spectators may be permitted on interior or exterior venue property. Professional sports organizations are encouraged to contact the Wolf administration to share their reopening plans and get them approved by the Department of Health."

Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald wants to see Pittsburgh play host to the NHL.

"I know the hotel industry would benefit from these teams that would be staying there. I think it would be a good thing for Pittsburgh, and it's something that I'm hopeful that we're able to get," he told local media.

Availability of testing: On June 8, the Pennsylvania National Guard launched a COVID-19 testing task force to ensure more people would be able to get tested. On June 10, the state made more drive-thru testing sites available for residents of Pennsylvania. Tests are free for Pennsylvanians. There are currently 345 testing sites in the state.

Status of summer youth sports: Youth sports and club teams around Pennsylvania have started practising and playing games again. In Pittsburgh, some baseball and softball organizations have started practices on community fields. 


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine formed separate working groups to determine best practices for professional sports to be able to get going again. (Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press)

Number of current cases: As of June 10, Ohio had registered 38,837 confirmed cases and 2,404 deaths. Franklin County, where Columbus is located, has the highest amount of cases in the state with 6,667 reported cases and 303 deaths.

Current quarantine rules/public restrictions: Easing of COVID-19-related restrictions started in Ohio in early May, not long after Gov. Mike DeWine unveiled his state's reopening plans in late April.

Unlike many other jurisdictions that have highlighted their plans with phases or colours, Ohio hasn't — instead just making announcements on what could open and how at different points in time. Non-contact sports such as tennis and racquetball resumed on May 26.

Currently, most essential and non-essential businesses are open with physical-distancing rules still in place.

What politicians/public officials are saying: DeWine formed separate working groups to determine best practices for professional sports to be able to get going again. DeWine told local reporters in Ohio he wouldn't be surprised to see pro sports back in the state before the end of summer.

"Professional sports are going to be obviously to a great extent dictated by the leagues, but it would not surprise me again to see some professional sports come back in Ohio, maybe with no spectators. That's certainly a possibility."

Availability of testing: As of early June in Ohio, tests were administered to residents based on level of priority.

In the priority one bracket, hospitalized patients and frontlines workers receive tests. In priority brackets two through to four, high-risk patients, medical personnel and symptomatic people would be able to get tests.

In the priority five bracket, anyone is available to get the test.

Status of summer youth sports: The majority of youth sports have started up again in Ohio.

Six sports, including baseball, golf, tennis, track and field, softball, swimming and diving, were all deemed safe to begin by the Ohio Department of Health, as well as most limited-contact and no-contact sports.

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