The Maple Leafs and Oilers would be right at home in the NHL’s expected bubble cities. Well, kind of.
Early as the NHL considered options for resuming this season, the idea of teams playing at a neutral site was floated. The league moved past college arenas quickly, choosing instead to hold games where it knew all the necessary amenities would be in place.
It decided to pick two hub cities, putting a group of teams at each place in a bubble environment.
After weeks of consideration — Tampa was reportedly in the mix at one point — all signs now point to Toronto and Edmonton being those cities in the season’s planned resumption this month. But even if it has to make a change, the league would stick to playing in NHL buildings. That means two of the 24 teams that would resume the season would play on home ice.
Can arenas be neutral if they’re one team’s home building? The league will do its darnedest to make them so.
No fans would be allowed at games, so that atmosphere — the biggest advantage — would be stripped.
Toronto, one of the 12 Eastern Conference teams set to resume play, wouldn’t be holing up in its luxurious dressing room at Scotiabank Arena while the rest of the teams, including the Lightning, make do with the visitor space or makeshift rooms.
The Maple Leafs would clear out or lock up anything they didn’t want other teams getting hold of (medical supplies, team paperwork, etc.). They did the same when their arena co-hosted the 2017 World Junior Championship, as did the Lightning when Amalie Arena hosted the 2018 All-Star Game.
The higher seed likely would be the team in the Maple Leafs’ room in a given game. The NBA’s Raptors also play at Scotiabank Center, and their space also would be available, similarly buttoned up.
The only people who would get to stay in their designated space would be Toronto management. General manager Kyle Dubas will would have his office. How much of an advantage that would provide the Maple Leafs is questionable.
There’s something to be said for the Maple Leafs players’ familiarity with the space. But every team in the conference has played at Scotiabank Arena once or twice a year. After a couple of days, they’ll all know where to go.
Early after the league put its season on hold March 12 due to the coronavirus, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said that serving as a hub host would be an advantage because players would be able to sleep in their own beds. It’s now clear all teams would stay in hotels, no matter where they live.
If anything, the temptation to pop the bubble and make a quick trip home might be a disadvantage for a host team.
No one would be allowed to go out and wander around the city. Perhaps being able to get takeout from your favorite places could be an advantage for host-team players, but it would be a slim one, if it would be at all.
Something that could benefit a host team inevitably would come up, but it would be small and likely something without much impact.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.