CHICAGO — With less than two weeks until the hockey season is expected to restart, Chicago is one of four finalists the NHL is considering to be a “hub city” for the league’s playoffs.
In order to limit players’ travel and exposure to health risks, two hub cities will host a 24-team tournament that will conclude the NHL’s 2019-2020 season. Next to the Stanley Cup, the “hub” designation may be the biggest prize in professional hockey.
“This would be a boost for morale, I think, in many ways to show that Chicago could host a big event amid a pandemic,” said Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business.
The NHL is expected to pick two locations from its final four to host the playoffs soon. In addition to Chicago, the other finalists are Las Vegas, Edmonton and Toronto.
This is down from an initial list of 10 cities which were considered when the return to play plan was announced by the league. It’s expected that one city will be in Canada and the other in the United States.
“Chicago has the Covid case numbers in its favor, obviously Las Vegas and many cities in the sun belt have seen cases spike,” Ecker said.
Chicago would use the United Center, the home of the Blackhawks, along with the team’s nearby training center, Fifth Third Arena, to house teams during the return to play tournament. If chosen, the city would host 12 teams in the tournament with the others going to the other site.
According to Ecker, McCormick Place would also serve as an Olympics-style “athletes village” for the players.
“It’s an opportunity for Chicago to say here’s a crown jewel convention center, one of the largest in the world that you can have effectively to yourselves for a couple of months to run the season,” Ecker said.
McCormick Place has lost nearly 100 conventions and other events which were canceled because of the pandemic, but if the city’s bid to host the NHL playoffs wins, it could bring hundreds of hockey players to the convention center – and a lot of revenue to the city.
Hundreds of players and team personnel would also stay at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, and use the Wintrust Arena as a training and meeting facility.
“McCormick Place has been mostly empty for a few months, and they’re going to be for several more months here. So getting any kind of group to fill the hotel rooms and use the facilities would be a nice boost for MPEA,” Ecker said.
In the Chicago bid, the league would be able to stage three games a day at the United Center with no fans in the seats. Teams would practice at nearby ice rinks including Fifth Third Arena, and Johnny’s Ice House.
Ecker says the proposal calls for Northwestern Medicine to turn the United Center Atrium, where the Michael Jordan statue stands, into a COVID-19 testing facility capable of doing 800 tests a day.
“That would be a testing hub, the bid said the Northwestern Memorial Hospital would be a partner in administering the tests, and getting results back,” Ecker said.
There’s no scheduled announcement for the NHL’s decision, however it’s expected to happen in the coming days.
The league already announced the Blackhawks will be one of the 24 teams in the playoffs when the season resumes. They’ll face the Edmonton Oilers in a best-of-five series in the preliminary round to determine who will advance to the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Training camp is set to begin on July 10.