EDMONTON — ‘Tis to laugh, the comparisons between the National Hockey League gathering one of its playoff pools in Edmonton or Las Vegas.
Like, seriously? We’re really talking about this?
Well, actually, they are. And there’s a few reasons why.
First of all, have you been to Vegas in August? The average high during that month is 38-40 degrees Celsius, with the average low somewhere around 26 degrees. It’s like walking into a pizza oven when you leave your Vegas hotel, and even a little fresh air is necessary now and again in Sin City.
For many, the reason why you would choose Las Vegas weather over Edmonton weather for nine months out of the year is the same reason you would choose Edmonton weather over Las Vegas weather for July, August and September.
Las Vegas has every city in North America — maybe the world? — beat if the competition is solely about hotels, pools and access to banquet facilities, restaurants etc. But it doesn’t beat Edmonton or Vancouver when it comes to the availability of NHL-sized hockey rinks to accommodate 12 teams.
In Vancouver they have one-stop shopping with the Burnaby 8 rinks, while the Edmonton bid originally offered to provide each of the 12 teams with its own practice rink. That was deemed unnecessary, but if it is assumed that six practice rinks are needed, that’s two city-owned facilities in Edmonton — plus the one under the same roof as the main rink at Rogers Place for pregame skates. No problem.
Speaking of rinks, what about making ice during August in the desert? Now, with no fans opening and closing the doors to the arena, that will help keep the heat out. But anyone who has traveled the NHL circuit can tell you this: If humidity if the No. 1 enemy of the ice maker, intense heat is No. 2.
There is a reason why Edmonton’s ice has been at or near the top of the NHL since forever. It’s dry, and a nice, hot summer day comes in at about 27 degrees Celsius. The average August high is only 22.
It’s the playoffs. Making good ice should be a priority, no?
The Oilers bid includes three hotels within a five-minute walk to Rogers Place, and a fourth — the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald — that’s about 15 minutes by foot.
Players want to golf? There are plenty of courses who would love to have an NHL team fill its tee sheet on an off day — no problem. You might get a mosquito bite, but you can tee off at 1 p.m. and not get heat stroke. Or at 6 p.m and still get 18 in.
Another place where Edmonton’s new arena matches or beats anyone — especially Vancouver — is broadcast space in the press box. There is room for 12 radio teams and as many TV crews to call games at Rogers Place, a key component in the Edmonton bid with the NHL still deciding how much media they are willing to allow inside the building.
And of course, there is the COVID-19 situation, where a metro population of 1.3 million has handled the pandemic well. As of this writing the Edmonton zone has 61 active cases and has suffered 12 deaths. Those numbers in Vegas (5,815 and 322) and Vancouver (887 and 86) simply can not compete, due to the size and international status of both cities compared to Edmonton.
Meanwhile, the issue of players having to spend two weeks in quarantine when crossing the Canadian border is thought to be less of a hurdle than previously reported, we are told. Basically, by the time players are asked to cross the border it is believed the federal government will no longer have such restrictions in place, and if COVID-19 flares to the point that they are in place or restrictions are heightened, then the entire prospect of resuming the season would be in jeopardy.
The feds, like Alberta premier Jason Kenney, see value in the NHL tournament to Canadians, whether it be held in Alberta or B.C. They will remove impediments within reason, remaining careful not to create special circumstances for athletes ahead of regular citizens.
Which brings us to testing, another area where NHL personnel can not be seen to be jumping any queues. The Oilers bid includes a contract with a lab that will conduct all necessary testing, so they can maintain their own capacity without depleting the capacity of the province to test Albertans.
Finally, while the Oilers are still quietly fighting to host the Western Conference tournament here, many teams have complained that no team should get the advantage of playing in their home arena — regardless of whether fans are in attendance or not.
The Edmonton bid has gone too far to turn back now, we are told. They’d rather have the Oilers playing at Rogers Place, but if they can convince the hockey world that there are indeed compelling reasons to choose Northern Alberta over the Nevada desert, they’ll accept the Eastern Conference pool if necessary.