The Lightning have been in the Toronto bubble for more than five weeks — 38 days to be exact — and it’s time for them to leave.
No, they have not been eliminated. The NHL planned to have two bubbles from the start of the postseason through the conference semifinals, then consolidate in Edmonton. The Lightning have secured their spot in the Eastern Conference final, so it’s time to move.
Except, they don’t have a spot for them at the J.W. Marriott in Edmonton yet.
The league was using three hotels in Edmonton and two in Toronto. In the conference semifinals, the NHL put the four teams remaining in each city in one hotel. With both Western Conference semifinals still underway on Tuesday, everyone was still at the J.W. Marriott and the Lightning were in a holding pattern.
“I think there’s a lot to be determined based on how the series go (Tuesday) and if the ones out West last,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Just like the times, a lot of uncertainty.”
Could they stay in Toronto?
Yes and no.
The NHL has an agreement with Hotel X and the hotel’s website shows it becomes available for public bookings again on Sept. 8, the day the conference finals were estimated to begin. But the league may be able to stay there until that date.
After that, the Lightning and whoever they play in the next round (the Islanders or Flyers) will have to relocate to Edmonton.
The league could decide to start the Eastern Conference final in Toronto while the Western Conference semifinals finish up in Edmonton. Even when they aren’t playing in bubbles, the NHL doesn’t usually start one series of a round more than a day or two before the other. In 2015, the two Western teams were done by May 10 but didn’t play until May 17, after the Eastern matchup was set.
That being said, everyone wants to keep things moving in the bubble. The NHL was prepared to start this current round staggered. It announced the Colorado-Dallas schedule before two other series were completed.
“I think there’s scenarios available of us staying here longer and maybe opening up here,” Cooper said, “or jump on a plane and head off to Edmonton, depending what happens.”
Is moving to Edmonton a good thing?
The Lightning have created something of a home at Hotel X. They’ve been in place the whole five weeks. They know the routine. They know where the pickleball courts are.
Edmonton will be new. It could be a good change of scenery after what will probably be 40-plus days in the same place. Maybe moving to a new location will feel like a literal representation of advancing in the playoffs.
“I don’t know,” Cooper said. “I don’t know if there’s going to be a mental advantage of traveling or not. The bottom line is, the next team we’re playing is doing the same thing.”
The Edmonton bubble is a different set-up. The hotel has different amenities, without as many recreation opportunities available (like said pickleball courts). There also isn’t a soccer stadium just down the street. BMO Field in Toronto has essentially been adult field day for the teams in Toronto, while those in Edmonton have had to schedule outings to the stadium outside of the city.
Are families joining them?
Spending so much time away from their families has been a concern for players from the beginning discussions about hub play. The compromise was trying to get families to join them for the conference finals and Stanley Cup final.
That might be tough to make happen, though.
Canada requires anyone entering the country to quarantine for 14 days. The NHL has been able to get around that by requiring negative coronavirus tests on four consecutive days and then traveling into Canada on chartered flights with further testing on that side of the trip.
If families enter the country on commercial airlines, they’ll be subject to that 14-day quarantine. If they can travel privately, it might be possible. But that’s complicated to figure out for so many different families coming from different places.
An option could be to have families gather in team cities, undergo the same testing players and staff did before reporting and then travel all together.
What about Nikita Kucherov?
This question is not about bubbles or travel, but it’s one of the biggest in the minds of Lightning fans.
Cooper did not have an update on the star right wing.
Kucherov left Monday’s game after taking a stick to the face from Zdeno Chara. Cooper said Monday night he didn’t know Kucherov’s status and would share an update the next day. On Tuesday, Cooper said he hadn’t seen many players since the team had a day off, and any update would have to wait another day.