According to SportsNet Canada, Toronto and Edmonton are expected to be announced as NHL hub cities because of the COVID 19 pandemic in the United States. That means that the Tampa Bay Lightning will be headed to Toronto while all of the West to Edmonton.
The NHL’s return-to-play plan would see 12 teams from each conference go to the two hubs to resume play. In the special format, the top four teams in each conference by points percentage at the time play was paused will play each other to determine playoff seeding. At the same time, the fifth through 12th seeds will meet in best-of-five series to determine the other four playoff teams in each conference.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported last week that it is likely the Western Conference will play in the western-based hub and the Eastern Conference will play in the eastern-based hub.
Las Vegas, Chicago and Los Angeles were other hubs still under consideration by the NHL. Vancouver, Columbus, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis/St. Paul were also considered earlier in the process.
The entire return-to-play plan remains contingent on approval by the NHL and NHLPA on a CBA extension. According to Friedman, the extended CBA would include a flat salary cap for two seasons, a deferral of 10 per cent of next season’s player salaries and Olympic participation (pending an agreement with the International Olympic Committee). The CBA, if approved, would also include language that would allow players to opt-out of returning to play this summer if they choose.
The NHL is currently in Phase 2 of its four-phase return-to-play plan, which allows small groups of players to skate together at team facilities under strict COVID-19 testing and monitoring. Phase 3, which includes full training camps, is scheduled to begin July 10 but that could be pushed back a couple days. Phase 4, which includes the resumption of games in hub cities, does not have a start date yet.
Since Phase 2 began on June 8, the NHL says 15 players have tested positive for COVID-19 at team facilities out of more than 250 players who have been tested over 1,450 times. An additional 11 players have tested positive outside of the NHL’s Phase 2 testing in that time.