Wednesday, June 24, 2020 / by Ken Couture
Las Vegas’ competition as a hub for the NHL postseason shrunk by at least one city on Monday.
The Columbus Blue Jackets said they were notified by the league that their home market would not be one of the two hubs if the season resumes. The Athletic reported that Minneapolis/St. Paul also was crossed off the list of 10 finalists being considered to host the 24-team Eastern and Western Conference postseason.
Also on Monday, the NHL said clubs will be allowed to work out in voluntary groups of up to 12 players starting Tuesday. They previously were limited to six players when Phase Two of the league’s return-to-play protocol began June 8.
The NHL paused its season March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly would not confirm in an email to the Review-Journal that the NHL had begun the process of eliminating potential hub cities. He said the league wouldn’t have any comment “until there is something to announce.”
Las Vegas is considered a strong contender to be a hub city. MGM Resorts International plans to keep some of its hotels closed so that one or more could house visiting teams.
Three Canadian cities — Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver — are also under heavy consideration. Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Pittsburgh also were on the NHL’s initial list.
Golden Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon last week said he thought Las Vegas would do “a really good job” as a hub city. If Las Vegas is chosen, it’s unclear whether the Knights would play in the valley or the other hub city in the interest of fairness.
“Las Vegas would be a great city with the facilities, the hotel space, the amenities that we have,” McCrimmon said. “We’d be hopeful we would play in a hub in Las Vegas if that opportunity was there for us. If it wasn’t, we’d happily play wherever the NHL told us to go play.”
The Knights said they will expand their workouts in accordance with the new guidelines and appear to be in a better position than most teams to take advantage. McCrimmon said many of the players stayed in Las Vegas during the shutdown and the team has had a “real good turnout” for Phase Two.
The team hasn’t disclosed the names of all the players who have participated because the workouts are voluntary. The ones known to have skated are Deryk Engelland, Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Holden, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves, Paul Stastny and Mark Stone.
The players have to follow numerous health and safety rules before each workout. They include twice weekly COVID-19 testing, the wearing of masks when walking into City National Arena and temperature checks at the door.
“I feel safe,” Reaves said last week. “I feel overly safe, to be honest. But those are just the rules the NHL put in place.”
Expanding the workouts will allow teams to further ramp up before training camps are scheduled to begin July 10. The league and players association still have to agree on health and safety protocols for the rest of the return-to-play plan before camps begin.
The NHL said Friday that 11 of the more than 200 players who have been tested multiple times since the start of Phase Two had positive results for COVID-19.
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