hub cities

NHL Bubble Wrap: Life during Return to Play; Updates on Crosby, others

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As the NHL training camp news shifts to playoff bubble news, the surroundings change, but some of the main considerations remain the same. For instance: we’re getting updates on the likes of Sidney Crosby, Dougie Hamilton, and David Pastrnak during this edition of the NHL Bubble Wrap.

Glimpses of life in the NHL Bubble: Food and games seem pretty solid

Confession: I was kind of crossing my fingers for the NHL Bubble food memes.

After all, NBA people had a field day with this one:

To my chagrin, and to more grins for NHL players, it seems like things are pretty top notch so far:

Mmmm, breakfast.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy believes that the hub experience will be tight-knit, and feel like a “permanent road trip.”

While that brings up images of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” it sounds like there will mainly be video games and … Settlers of Catan?

You might be able to kill all the time between Monday and the start of exhibition games merely exploring the details of NHL Bubble life.

(Do you have “The Muffin Man” in your head now, too?)

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Injury updates for Crosby, Pastrnak, and more

Moving on from the breakfast (which may occasionally include grits) to the nitty-gritty:

  • Mostly good news for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Crosby was a “full participant” in Monday’s practice. That said, coach Mike Sullivan said the team will decide if Crosby will play in the Flyers exhibition on Tuesday. Does that make it (drumroll please?) a game-time decision? (That game airs at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Tuesday.)
  • Let’s keep piling on the happy stuff like ingredients into an omelette. David Pastrnak ranked as a full participant in Bruins practice. He even got up to some rascal behavior. Things aren’t as clear for fellow Bruins winger Ondrej Kase, though.
  • The Hurricanes still consider Dougie Hamilton “unfit to play.” Not great for a defenseman who put up Norris-level numbers, although reports indicate the injury at least isn’t related to his broken fibula from earlier in 2019-20. Here’s some comic relief for Hurricanes fans:

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Neely questions Pastrnak, Kase, who may not practice with Bruins until Toronto

Cam Neely told media members that his “best guess” is that David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase won’t practice with the Bruins until the team reaches the Toronto hub city. Maybe most interestingly, Neely criticized some of the decisions Pastrnak and Kase made as the Bruins continue the NHL Return to Play process.

Limited opportunities to shake off rust

Now, it’s possible that Pastrnak and Kase might be able to get a Bruins practice in before the team plans on traveling to Toronto on (Sunday) July 26. It’s just that, like with many parts of this process, things are up in the air.

“It’s hard to say right now,” Neely said, via NBC Sports Boston. “My best guess would be [they will practice] in Toronto. There are hopes that it will be before we leave [Boston], but my best guess is Toronto.”

Pastrnak hasn’t gotten much time in with the Bruins, while Kase hasn’t practiced with them in training camp yet. To state the obvious: that’s far from ideal.

Brad Marchand recently said that “it doesn’t take long for chemistry to bounce back” for Marchand, Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron. And that’s probably true.

But what about Kase?

The speedy winger only managed to suit up for six Bruins games after being traded from the Ducks. During that time, Kase rarely got up to speed, as he failed to score a goal and only recorded a single assist. If anyone could have benefited from more time getting acclimated with still-new Bruins teammates, it was Kase.

Neely disappointed with Pastrnak and Kase; Quick look at Bruins schedule

You can chalk up some of these issues to “the nature of the beast.” We live in tumultuous times amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s not always possible for best-laid plans to actually pan out.

That doesn’t mean Neely isn’t disappointed with Kase and Pastrnak, who may have had a smoother transition to Bruins team activities if they arrived in Boston earlier.

Kase and Pastrnak don’t rank as the Bruins only headaches during training camp. Key players like Charlie McAvoy also missed time, while Tuukka Rask did his best to shake off concerns about a fractured finger.

Yet in the cases of Kase and Pastrnak, the Bruins seem a little steamed that this is a headache that maybe could have been controlled. It will be interesting to see if any hard feelings hold over, or if this is something that the Bruins move on from.

With some drama brewing, it might be helpful to ponder the upcoming Return to Play schedule for the Bruins, leading into the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers:

Rest of this week: Bruins squeeze in practices, wrap up training camp as best they can.

July 26: Bruins plan on arriving in Toronto hub city. Players need multiple negative COVID-19 tests to join the team on charter planes, so we’ll see if the Bruins and other teams experience disruptions there.

July 30: Bruins face Blue Jackets in an exhibition game (7 p.m. ET)

Aug. 2: Round Robin game versus Flyers (NBC, 3 p.m. ET)

Aug. 5: Round Robin game against Lightning (NBCSN, 4 p.m. ET)

Aug. 9: Final Round Robin game versus Capitals (time, network to be determined).

[Full 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule; How to watch on NBCSN, NBC, and USA Network]

Kase and Pastrnak setbacks shouldn’t be too disruptive to Bruins overall

In the framework of this week, it’s rotten that Pastrnak and Kase might not practice with the Bruins.

Overall, though? Between that exhibition game and the three Round Robin contests, the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers open up space for Pastrnak, Kase, and others to shake off the rust. It may not be ideal, but it’s probably nothing to get too bent out of shape about.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL rules out Dallas, Pittsburgh as hub cities; six options remain

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Cross Dallas and Pittsburgh off of the list of possible playoff hub cities for the NHL’s return-to-play plans. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the list shrunk from 10 to six possibilities.

Chicago, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Vancouver remain as possible NHL hub cities. Earlier this week, the NHL ruled out Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul as hub cities.

Pittsburgh, Dallas ruled out as NHL hub cities

The Stars haven’t released a comment about Dallas being ruled out yet. Meanwhile, Penguins executive David Morehouse released a statement regarding Pittsburgh not making the cut.

It’s not that shocking to see Pittsburgh ruled out, when you consider this map of COVID-19 cases, via the CDC:

CDC map COVID-19 NHL hub cities Dallas Pittsburgh

Texas (111,601) and Pennsylvania (82,186) rank among the areas hit hardest by COVID-19. KERA News notes more than 17,000 cases in Dallas county alone.

The NHL might not just be making decisions about hub cities based on COVID-19 outbreak numbers, though. The league seems to be taking infrastructure in mind, too. Are practice arenas and hotels conveniently located relative to the NHL arenas? How many NHL-ready rinks are available?

It’s possible such factors helped rule out Dallas and Pittsburgh, too.

A quick look at remaining hub cities options for NHL

Let’s briefly consider the six remaining hub city options for the NHL.

Edmonton, Toronto, and Vancouver

Check out Canada’s map of COVID-19 cases, via the government website:

Canada map COVID-19 NHL hub cities Dallas Pittsburgh

  • On one hand, Canada’s restrictions, such as mandatory self-quarantine, presents challenges. It sounds like government officials are willing to find ways to compromise, however.
  • As you can see, Texas (111,601) exceeds the total number of cases reported by Canada overall (101,637). Pennsylvania isn’t far behind Canada, either.
  • That said, Ontario (33,637) ranks as one of the hardest-hit provinces. This is where we get into logistics, again, though. Toronto ranks as a convenient market to streamline televising games, and shouldn’t lack for appropriate rinks.
  • Alberta suffers from more cases than British Columbia, but Edmonton officials have been pushing hard to become a hub city for the NHL. Both areas have been spared, relatively speaking — at least so far.
  • The Province’s Patrick Johnston breaks down some of the factors that could make Vancouver especially appealing.

Chicago, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas

  • Los Angeles feels like it at least should be unlikely. It’s part of why California ranks among the hardest-hit states, as Los Angeles county alone accounts for 78,227 confirmed cases, and 3,027 deaths.

The area features the infrastructure and market size that could make Los Angeles an appealing NHL hub cities in many ways. Yet, even among risky ideas, this seems especially risky, though.

  • Las Vegas has been a frontrunner at times. Compared to Los Angeles, the area hasn’t experienced the same level of COVID-19 outbreaks. That doesn’t mean it’s untouched, though.

Clark County reports 10,774 cases, representing almost 80 percent of Nevada’s cases. The Vegas/Nevada area recently experienced its worst spikes, too.

But, yes … relatively speaking, Vegas hasn’t been hit as hard. It also features a pretty unique array of hotels, and a solid market, making it appealing in many ways.

  • Chicago parallels other bigger possible NHL hub cities. Cook County reports a troubling 87,424 cases and 4,423 deaths. But Chicago also shares many of the resources the NHL may prefer in hub cities.

Overall, the six remaining potential NHL hub cities present pros and cons. It’s pretty easy to see the safer options, yet the league also must try to time things right to pull off a return to play. That continues to look like a pretty difficult needle to thread.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

NHL TEAMS, PLAYERS TEST POSITIVE FOR COVID-19:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: No hub cities ruled out by NHL yet; CBA extension brewing?

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Pierre LeBrun reported that, as of Monday, none of the 10 cities have been “ruled out” yet as hub cities. LeBrun also reports that the NHL is looping in the NHLPA on such matters. This won’t stop people from speculating about hub city frontrunners, but good to know that there could — theoretically — be more twists and turns. [TSN/Pierre LeBrun on Twitter]

• So, cities want to serve as hubs. How much value would the hub city experience actually bring to a given market, though? Daniel Nugent-Bowman recently asked some experts, and the general takeaway is that such benefits are overblown. [The Athletic, sub required]

• Ranking Bruins jerseys, from worst to best. Ally Koss apologizes for ranking the “Smokey the Bear” jerseys last. That apology prompts this question: are there people who ever liked those unironically? [Hockey By Design]

• This post went up in early May, but is it ever too late to read about Darius Kasparaitis? Aside: I totally thought I remembered how to spell his name without looking it up. I was wrong. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• In discussing how players can drive up energy without fans, Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse hoped to channel Michael Jordan’s competitive fire. As much as I enjoyed “The Last Dance,” that … feels like a bit of a stretch. Either way, it’s interesting to hear what players have to say about that experience, and probably won’t stop being interesting for a long time. [The Canadian Press]

As discussed before, there are rumblings of one possible positive emerging amid the pandemic pause: a CBA extension. Lyle Richardson delves into that possibility, with the NHL reportedly preferring a five-year extension (through 2026-27), while the NHLPA might want it through 2025-26. After all of the lockouts, it really all feels like gravy to me, personally. [Spector’s Hockey]

• How long will it take for players to go from pandemic pause to “game speed?” Depends on the players. In this instance, different Capitals had different takes, with Alex Ovechkin among those seeming pretty optimistic (relatively speaking). [NBC Sports Washington]

• Interesting read on how Kings prospect Blake Lizotte took an unusual path to the NHL. [The Hockey News]

• Amid all of the angst surrounding the Maple Leafs, it rarely felt like the team was at 100-percent. This Leafs Nation post really digs into that assumption, and strengthens that argument. Now, sure, plenty of teams need to roll with the punches, but this is still food for thought. [Leafs Nation]

• A look at Jason Botterill’s struggles as Sabres GM. While not every move was that bad in a vacuum (the Brandon Montour investment seemed like a fair way to address a big problem), the bigger picture isn’t very pretty. Then again, how many times do you want to hit the “reset” button with a franchise? The Sabres are a in a tough spot. [Last Word on Hockey]

• USA Hockey player membership saw its first drop in numbers since they began publishing said stats. It’s tough to say this would have happened if not for COVID-19, yet it’s noteworthy nonetheless. [NHL to Seattle]

• Ray Sheppard looks back at the Panthers’ improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. No plastic rats were harmed in the process. [Panthers Press Box]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.