It looks like hockey is finally coming back — and specifically to the Great White North.
Barring unforeseen setbacks, Edmonton and Toronto are expected to be named as hub cities for the revised NHL playoffs, according to TSN. And the news that the rest of the NHL season will be played exclusively on Canadian soil comes perfectly timed on our country’s 153rd birthday.
So yes, hockey’s coming back. Best Canada Day gift EVER.
Hockey fans have Canada’s relatively low COVID-19 case numbers to thank for the NHL’s return north of the border. Las Vegas, long considered a front-runner for its hotel infrastructure and amenities, fell out of the running this week after cases spiked in the region and across the U.S. Other cities under consideration included Los Angeles and Chicago.
WATCH: Canucks say Vancouver won’t be hub city. Story continues below.
The NHL suspended the 2019-20 season in March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in North America. As restrictions ease, testing has recently ramped up in the league.
Since the beginning of June, when the NHL resumed some limited on- and off-ice workouts and activities, 26 players in the league have tested positive for COVID-19 out of nearly 1,500 tests conducted.
TSN noted that unforeseen circumstances could still derail the plan, but Edmonton and Toronto are likely to be named the hubs.
There have been 729 active cases of COVID-19 reported in Toronto and 246 in Edmonton as of June 30.
Toronto is primed to host an event of this scale, having previously hosted the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and various junior hockey tournaments.
No word on if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s Edmonton promotional video — which actually didn’t feature the city at all — factored into the NHL’s decision making . Players who arrive in Edmonton looking for glaciers and beautiful mountain vistas will be sorely disappointed. But the Alberta capital does boast a brand new facility that will allow players and staff to be completely isolated from the rest of the city.
Under the revised playoff plan, 12 teams from each conference will play televised games with no fans. Players will live in each city for the duration of the playoffs, remaining isolated in a “bubble” away from local residents. The return to play remains contingent on the approval of a new collective bargaining agreement extension by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association.
But assuming that goes through, hockey is on its way back to the Six and the prairies.
Fans have mixed reactions to the news.
Edmonton in particular has been singled out as a less-than-ideal place for players to spend the summer.
But Edmonton and Toronto weren’t the only Canadian cities under consideration. Vancouver was poised to be an ideal spot for the revised playoffs, considering its low case numbers even compared to other Canadian cities, but talks between the province and league dissolved last week.
“We just profoundly believe that the strength of what we’ve said to everybody is the strength of public health here in B.C. should be the primary concern, and that’s our primary concern,” B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said last week.
Training camp for the revised NHL season is expected to resume July 10, with the new playoffs hosted in Edmonton and Toronto taking place later this summer.
So dust off those jerseys hockey fans and get ready for the puck to drop in Edmonton and Toronto.