With a decision looming as early as Thursday, the battle to become Canada’s host city during the NHL playoffs has become as desperate as the quest to win the Stanley Cup.
Details have emerged from ostentatious pitches made by Oilers Entertainment Group and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. to persuade the NHL to make Edmonton or Toronto one of two hubs where 12 teams will contest the postseason. A decision is expected to be announced as early as Thursday. Until then, there will be plenty of teeth gnashing in both those cities and in Vancouver, which is also in the running.
Edmonton’s splashy proposal includes creating an Olympic-style village in the downtown core around Rogers Place. All of the players would stay in the 22-storey JW Marriott hotel, which is attached to the arena by a pedway. Basketball courts, golf simulators, movie nights, ping pong and pool tables, and video games are among the promised amenities.
Not to be outdone, MLSE would create a 16-hectarecampus where players and staff would live on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. The design provides access to a host of facilities, including the Coca-Cola Coliseum, which is home to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the Raptors’ practice facility and Hotel X, a resort on Lake Ontario with more than 400 rooms.
In its bid, Vancouver heavily relies on its history of success in hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. British Columbia Premier John Horgan wrote a letter to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on the city’s behalf. Both Edmonton and Vancouver stressed their relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases.
The regular season was halted on March 12 as the grave respiratory illness spread across North America. The NHL plans to resume with playoff games beginning in August. An original list of 10 possible sites has been winnowed down to six, with Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles the potential choices in the United States. Only two sites will be chosen, most likely one in each country.
Las Vegas is considered to be a shoe-in because, well, it is Las Vegas. That leaves others to make extravagant promises. Nobody has committed to moving players around in a Trojan horse, but we have gotten close.
Alberta Tourism officials created a video to help Edmonton with its bid. It is worthy to note that the promotional film shows the Columbia Icefield, Lake Louise, streams, waterfalls and other lovely sights in the Rockies – but not Edmonton itself, other than a quick scan of the skyline. All of those places are spectacular, but a minimum of four hours travel from Edmonton.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney posted the video on social media on Monday along with the words, “It’s an obvious choice to bring the NHL to Edmonton.” Much fun has been poked at this since then. One Canucks fan in Vancouver created a meme with photos of the Sydney Opera House, the Great Wall of China, the Roman Colosseum and the Milky Way, along with those same words, “It’s an obvious choice to bring the NHL to Edmonton.”
In a message also posted online, the Premier championed Edmonton’s effort and said he has spoken to Bettman.
“I think we have got a tremendous pitch,” Kenney said. “The beating heart of hockey and the NHL is the Canadian prairies. I cannot think of a better place to come to.”
Players are unlikely to have time for sightseeing, but Alberta Tourism is helping to create vacation experiences for their families. The Oilers Entertainment Group has also arranged for dedicated days at golf courses that will be open only to players.
All of the sites, of course, are promising strict health measures to protect the players from illness, whether that is really possible or not. Last week, the NHL announced that 11 of 200 players tested since training facilities opened on June 8 have been confirmed to have COVID-19.
Toronto’s initial bid focused on creating a bubble close to Scotiabank Arena, but it has had to up its game to keep up with Edmonton. MLSE is reportedly mulling adding food trucks and an outdoor movie theatre to its campus at the exhibition grounds.
There is so much at stake that neither the Oilers Entertainment Group nor MLSE will comment until after the announcement is made for fear they would upset the NHL.
Where this all ends we will soon know. But whichever cities in Canada lose out, it will not be for a lack of trying.