The National Hockey League is looking for a potential place to play out the remainder of its 2019-2020 season and British Columbia Premier John Horgan says it could be played in the province’s hockey rinks.
“We’ve heard from others around the league that have other ideas about perhaps having all of the games played in B.C.,” Horgan said after speaking with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this week.
“We have WHL rinks in Victoria, in Kamloops, in Kelowna, in Prince George. The Kootenays — Cranbrook — has an outstanding facility as well. We have hotel space. The sky’s really the limit.”
Save-On-Foods Centre, Sandman Centre, Prospera Place, CN Centre, and Western Financial Place are the rinks in the cities mentioned by Horgan. There is also Pacific Coliseum, Doug Mitchell Arena at UBC, Langley Events Centre, Abbotsford Centre, Chilliwack Coliseum, Kal Tire Place, and South Okanagan Events Centre that could be used to house the large number of people that are required and the infrastructure needed for NHL broadcasts.
With the Premier suggesting that the NHL could take over the rinks in cities throughout the province, the regular tenants of those buildings might be left in the dark, if they are even able to get started at the end of August when training camps generally begin.
For the NHL to play its games in those hockey arenas, the players would need to be self-quarantined for 14 days. Then they would attend at least a small “training camp” before playing out the schedule, however the NHL decides to do that. Some of the arenas may also require minor upgrades to bring the broadcasts up to snuff.
The part that creates a problem for the WHL is that the teams might not be able to get onto their ice until after the NHL, its players, staff, and representatives clear out. With the way the current schedule needs to be played out, that could extend the end of the 2019-2020 season well into September. There are all kinds of proposals on the table for how the NHL schedule might look, but the consensus is that the league would like to finish the season in its regular form.
Certainly, the fact that the Western Hockey League is a gate-driven league means that its teams may not be able to play in hockey rinks in British Columbia, or anywhere in Western Canada, for a long time — possibly even until there is a vaccine available. That could be an entire year or more away.
“If we can’t get gate revenue, we can’t operate. If in this state, if we carry on the way we are going, we’re losing significantly, hundreds of thousands of dollars as time goes on,” Vancouver Giants owner Ron Toigo told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver’s James Cybulski on Wednesday.
Delaying the season is something the entire CHL needs to look at as well. There is a chance that large crowds may not be able to attend sporting events of any kind for as long as COVID-19 does not have a vaccine.
Of course, this still all needs to be worked out and there are several moving parts. The NHL will need to determine all kinds of scenarios and sort out how to get the players regularly tested. It will also need to decide who is going to be able to be part of the NHL bubble and how to accomplish that.
To solve this problem, the WHL could attempt to find itself an area to play in, possibly Alberta. There are a lot of useable hockey rinks, and the size would be less of an issue than that of the NHL. Having hub cities could also mean that there are only a few teams playing in each area, so they could play within their division in that particular city or cluster of arenas. However, the WHL would need to overcome the issue of accommodations as there would not be enough time to arrange the billets required. Instead, they would likely have to put players up in hotels for an indefinite amount of time, which would be a tough sell for players and their families.