VANCOUVER – In the words of crusty sheriff Ed Tom Bell in the movie No Country for Old Men: “Appears to have been a glitch or two.”
After reports on the weekend that the NHL planned to come back from the coronavirus shutdown in Las Vegas and Vancouver, Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman reported late Tuesday that Vancouver’s bid to host 12 teams had hit a “snag.”
A source indicates discussions between the NHL, Canucks and provincial and regional health officials to finalize plans for Vancouver are stuck on a key concern: contingency plans should a player or players test positive for COVID-19 within the “bubble” the league wants established around teams.
As Friedman reported, it’s unclear to what degree the snag could scuttle Vancouver’s bid, but the NHL is eager to finalize its hub cities. An announcement could come this week. Talks between the league and health officials in British Columbia were ongoing as of mid-day Wednesday.
Both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly have said they do not believe a positive test should shut down the Stanley Cup tournament.
Edmonton and Toronto, which re-submitted its bid to the NHL after broadening and strengthening its proposed bubble, are the other Canadian candidates to stage playoff games.
Despite rising COVID numbers in Nevada – and much of the United States – the NHL reportedly still considers Las Vegas a hub-city front-runner due to the scope and security of the bubble that massive MGM Resorts can provide around T-Mobile Arena. Los Angeles and Chicago are the other hub-city candidates in the U.S.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved the NHL’s return to Canada last week by amending the country’s 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for NHLers arriving from abroad to be allowed to quarantine together so they can practise and train.
“Canada is open to it as long as it is OK’d by the local health authorities,” Trudeau said.
NHL staff, through its teams, has been talking to local health officials since then.
Canucks general manager Jim Benning and chief operating officer Trent Carroll have praised B.C. and Vancouver Coastal Health authorities throughout the coronavirus shutdown for their leadership and support.
The province reported only 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday – Alberta had 45, Ontario 216 – and at 32.7 deaths-per-million, British Columbia has one of the lowest mortality rates of any major jurisdiction in North America and Europe.
B.C. chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has become a superstar, and if it’s a choice between what she says is safe and what the NHL wants, most Vancouverites would probably side with the doctor.
“Ultimately, we want to pick the safest cities,” Daly told Sportsnet in May. “And ‘safest’ goes to what the condition of the virus is in the city and whether the city has it under control and the health facilities that are available.”