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Golf course, movie screens: How Alberta is trying to attract the NHL playoffs to Edmonton
EDMONTON -- Hockey fans are getting a clearer glimpse of how the NHL playoffs might work should they still go ahead this year — and how the province is trying to lure the league to make Edmonton one if its host cities.
As TSN reports, the proposal would see the top 12 teams from each the east and west conference play on, with the top four in each receiving a bye to the playoffs.
Those four would enter a three-game round-robin series to determine their seeding; meanwhile the remaining eight teams would square off in a best-of-five play-in series. The winners would determine the 16 playoff teams bracketed to play for the Stanley Cup.
Toronto and Vancouver are also vying to play host.
At the very least, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wants to see Canada chosen as one of two hubs.
“I will say this to the NHL: They better darn well choose at least one Canadian city," Kenney told TSN's Ryan Rishaug in a sit-down interview Thursday.
"I know there’s a big market in the U.S., but this is the heart and soul of hockey and I would say that’s especially true for the Canadian prairies, and Edmonton just has that vibe of hockey town… I think the decision is obvious."
But the premier also wants to see it happen for the province, whose economy has been hard-hit by the pandemic, low oil prices, and whose responsible citizens, he says, have enabled Alberta to begin its relaunch.
"I can’t imagine a better way to help boost our relaunch of Alberta’s amazing tourism industry that to have tens of millions of people across North America and around the world watching professional hockey restart here in Edmonton, Alberta.”
To sweeten its deal, Alberta is pitching a "lifestyle" for NHL players, like a secure golf course and outdoor screens for movies, though the league is reportedly far from making a decision.
As for fans hoping to be back in the stands, Kenney said crowd-filled arenas weren't in the near future, though he is hopeful sporting and other large events would look "more like normal" later in 2020.
Kenney says Edmonton is the safest place in North America the National Hockey League could choose to host the rest of its season.
The capital city's public health performance during the pandemic coupled with its ICE District, which includes attached arenas and hotels, make it the "obvious" choice, the premier said.
On Thursday, Alberta reported just 33 new cases out of more than 4,000 tests, which is less than half of its lab capacity, according to Kenney. To date, the province has completed nearly a quarter of a million tests.
“I get the sense that he feels that a shot in the arm like this is needed, and if he has to be firm in his assertion that this is the best place to do it, he’s clearly not opposed to doing that.
"He’s making a very loud case here this week," Rishaug told CTV News Edmonton.
He explained, "They believe they have a way to do this safely. They’ve been working with the NHL, working with Alberta Health to create this super bubble, we’ll call it, of safety, that once players enter into that, there’ll be constant testing and measures in place to avoid any sort of outbreak."
KENNEY'S CONVERSATION WITH BETTMAN
The premier confirmed that, should the NHL come to Alberta's capital city, it would be on its own dime – including the price of daily testing of players.
“I’ve made this very clear to Commissioner (Gary) Bettman: We would not be giving preferential access to NHL players in the public testing queue. Obviously if one of those guys became symptomatic or for some reason met the criteria, they would be eligible like anybody here," Kenney told Rishaug.
"But if they want to much more frequent testing, I would suggest they … either they buy approved rapid test kits off the market, or they go to a private lab service to do that as a separate deal. And I think there are already preliminary discussions to do that.”
The players would be subject to federally and provincially mandated 14-day quarantines upon arriving in Canada.
A zone would be created around Rogers Place, connecting players and staff to the two available ice surfaces and hotels.
Once finishing the 14-day isolation period, and given they are not symptomatic, the NHL guests would be free to move in public as the rest of the city is, Kenney said. Anyone who tested positive would have to self-isolate alone, though he didn't say a positive result would affect the game schedule.
That could change, he cautioned, if an outbreak were to occur.
“As long as we have a pandemic situation, we do have the authority to intervene with extraordinary measures," Kenney commented.
"If there was to be a widespread outbreak while the NHL is here because of their presence, then action might have to be taken. But that will be true wherever they play."
He said it wasn't realistic to assume there was zero risk to hosting the NHL, but that it was a matter of managing what he identified as a relatively low-risk situation responsibly.
With files from TSN's Ryan Rishaug