Boston will not be an NHL Hub City but there still could be some Stanley Cup playoff hockey at TD Garden later in the summer or early fall.
Given that the city and the state of Massachusetts have been a Coronavirus hotspot it’s not likely but the door has been left open by the NHL, the Boston Bruins, and local government. Boston was not one of the ten cities listed as a potential NHL Hub City when NHL players return to the ice, likely in August, to compete for the 2020 Stanley Cup. However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman left the door open for the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final to be played in the finalists’ cities.
“Yes. It depends on what the world looks like,” Bettman explained in an interview with Mike Tirico of NBC Sports Wednesday morning. “If you made me guess today I think we’ll be in one of the two hub cities, or conceivably a third city, but if things change dramatically and we have the ability to go back to the home markets [we would do it.] We anticipate playing this without fans, but if at some point things change and we could then obviously we would re-evaluate.
Everything we’ve been doing for the last 10-12 weeks was having to do with preparing for anything that might be in front of us. It’s about having alternatives and having optionality and making sure we were flexible enough to adapt to whatever is going on.”
In a Zoom call with the media later in the day, Boston Bruins President Cam Neely made it clear that he completely understood and respected why TD Garden and Boston were not a finalist to be an NHL Hub City.
“First and foremost just how hard Boston and the state was hit compared to not even just the country but just globally, and where the state is at opening up leading into [Tuesday’s] announcement,” Neely pointed out when asked why he thought Boston didn’t make the cut. “Really, there’s so much unknown and that’s what everybody’s trying to figure out, unfortunately.
Everything is going to be predicated on the medical community first and foremost on ‘how safe is it? and ‘Is it proper now to testing?’ and ‘Where is the best place to do it’ so as of yesterday, they’ve identified some cities, states or provinces that are currently in better situations but what I think Gary meant by that, come August or September, things could be better in other cities and locations as well.”
The Bruins have been in constant contact with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and on Tuesday, Walsh said he’s always open to ideas from pro sports leagues if they make sense medically and safety-wise.
“Teams could look into things like temperature checks and testing to limit the spread amongst players and staff,” Walsh said in his press briefing on Tuesday. “Any proposals from teams will have to be matched with the proper health and safety protocol to make both staff and players feel comfortable with their plans. I know that some of these leagues where I’m seeing this, there’s some very strict guidelines and regulations. So we will see as we move forward.”
Walsh did make it clear though that there won’t be any fans in TD Garden if the Stanley Cup playoffs come to Boston later in the summer.
“As much as I would love to watch our pro teams play right now, we really have to put the health and safety of Boston residents first,” Walsh said. “As I said before, if pro team sports come back, they’ll be very different than what we’re used to. I don’t think, right now, we’re in a place where we’ll have fans watching and cheering from the stands. We also have to think about the health of the players and the players traveling from other places.”
Three Eastern Conference sites (Columbus, Toronto, and Pittsburgh) and seven Western Conference cities (Chicago, LA, Vegas, Vancouver, Edmonton, Dallas, and Minnesota) were listed as potential NHL Hub Cities during the announcement making the NHL Return To Play plan official.
Multiple reports across the league have Vegas as one of the cities that will be chosen and as Elliotte Friedman pointed out on Hockey Central Wednesday the fact that Los Angeles was surprisingly on that list, they may very well be a solid candidate. Friedman cited the proximity of Disneyland, which could be used for lodging and quarantine, to the Honda Center in Anaheim and the Staples Center in Los Angeles. When asked why they still have such a big list of potential Hub cities, Bettman pointed to the uncertainty of the virus and making sure to leave plenty of options open as long as they can.
“The reason there are so many cities still in contention is that we didn’t want to be in a situation, with things in the world moving so quickly and changing from day-to-day, to get locked in because we don’t want to go to a place where there is a lot of COVID-19 and we don’t want to go to a place where we can’t get the testing that we need,” Bettman told Tirico. “There is going to be extensive testing. Health and safety are the most important things, so testing needs to be available for us on a wide-scale basis without disrupting any medical needs. We’re probably three weeks or more from making a decision. It’s great that we have all of these options.”