The two Canadian cities will likely host the 24-team playoff format that will crown a Stanley Cup champion under unprecedented circumstances.
The NHL is expected to name Edmonton and Toronto as the two hub cities upon the league’s return-to-play in late-July, confirmed by Sportsnet. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s return plan on May 26, but held off from naming hub cities, possibly so the league could assess the outlook of COVID-19 cases in the respective cities.
The plan worked out well, as the two Canadian cities will host the 12 teams in each conference as the Stanley Cup Playoffs open in unusual circumstances. The league was long thought to have chosen at least one American city — most notably Chicago and Las Vegas — but given the alarming uptick in coronavirus cases in the United States, it’s best the NHL travels north of the border and resumes its season in hockey-crazed Canada.
As the league begins to head towards Phase 3 of the return-to-play plan, which will allow for training camps to open, concerns over the resumption have remained intact following multiple facilities throughout the league finding bundles of positive COVID-19 tests. An outbreak at the Tampa Bay Lightning facility along with a total of 26 players testing positive has raised concerns over the necessity of a restart.
Choosing hub cities outside of U.S. soil may help alleviate those pressing concerns however, as Canada has suppressed the virus and has hovered around 300 new cases per day through the latter half of June. The proximity to the United States and the players coming from markets with considerably high coronavirus outbreaks casts a shadow of doubt on a safe resumption, but as long as the NHL locks down its hub cities, then a Stanley Cup champion can be crowned.