Alberta premier: Edmonton is ‘safest place’ for NHL’s potential return

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney laid out his reasons for why Edmonton would be the NHL's best choice as host city should the season resume.

Both Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson support the Edmonton Oilers‘ bid to be one of the ‘hub cities’ the NHL has been said to be considering as the sites of their potential return.

The league’s 2019-20 campaign has been suspended since March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and no decisions have yet been made on when or how a potential restart of the season could come. However, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has reported, the league is considering a 24-team playoff format that would see groups of six teams convene in four hub cities.

Friedman highlighted three Canadian cities — Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver — currently in the running to be hubs. On Tuesday, Kenney said during a press conference that he believes Edmonton is the safest choice for the NHL should the league opt for the hub-city setup, given how the city and the province have responded to the pandemic.

“We continue to work very closely with the Edmonton Oilers franchise on refining Alberta’s proposal — we’re very keen on attracting the NHL playoffs for the summer shortened season. And I think we’ve got a tremendous pitch to make,” Kenney said.

“First of all, in terms of Alberta being a star performer in North America on the public health response to the pandemic, particularly here in Edmonton, where the number of active cases — I think we’re down to 50 active cases in this population in greater Edmonton of 1.2 million people, and a handful of people in hospital with hundreds of acute care beds that have been set aside for COVID patients.

“Together with the highest per-capita testing in North America, if not the world, I think we are the safest place they could find in the continent to come and, in a very thoughtful and careful way, finish off the season with the playoffs.”

Per the province’s official numbers, Edmonton has 58 active cases, and nine patients hospitalized due to COVID-19, with two of those patients in intensive care. Overall, Edmonton has seen 448 recovered cases of their total 518, and have endured 12 deaths as a result of the novel coronavirus.

Should the city serve as one of the sites of the NHL’s restart, Kenney said Edmonton is also well-positioned to ensure a safe return given how the Oilers’ arena is set up.

“We’ve got one of the best facilities — I would say the best facility — with the brand new Rogers Place arena. It is attached to a brand new hotel, all of the services are right there — it can be safely integrated in a protected zone that would keep the players and staff insulated,” Kenney said. “So, we’ve got a very, very strong pitch, I think, to make. And I look forward to speaking again with commissioner Bettman, hopefully later this week, about all of that.”

Mayor Iveson also made clear his support via a tweet sent out Monday evening, which included a letter addressed to Gary Bettman stating the city supports the Oilers’ bid to host the league’s return, and said the team has been working with the provincial government to form a plan should Edmonton be chosen as a hub city.

“As Edmonton’s number-one priority is the health and safety of its residents, we recognize that the NHL has placed health and safety as a top priority for the return of the hockey season. And we understand that OEG (Oilers Entertainment Group) has been working closely with our provincial government on a detailed health framework and protocol that prescribe conditions under which games hosted by Edmonton would take place,” Iveson’s statement read.

Echoing Kenney’s comments regarding the strength of Edmonton’s response to the pandemic, Iveson also said the Oilers’ arena and surrounding Ice District area would be an important piece of the city’s bid to the NHL.

“Ice District’s facilities and proximity to downtown hotels minimize the need for participants’ movement between the arena and their accommodations. In addition, the City of Edmonton is working closely with OEG on an agreement to use our high-quality civic recreational facilities, currently closed to Edmontonians during the pandemic, where NHL teams could practice and train safely while in Edmonton,” the mayor wrote.

No official decision has yet been made on when the NHL’s potential return will come, or whether they’ll opt for the hub-cities plan, though an announcement appears set to come sooner rather than later on that front.

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