With all due respect to Vancouver and Edmonton — both absolutely lovely cities — (if) when the NHL gets down to making the hard decisions of which four cities will host the divisional playoff tournaments, there is really no choice when it comes to the Pacific Division. Las Vegas is the only real choice. Follow along as I lay out the clear case for Las Vegas to host the Pacific Division playoff rounds.
For the purpose of this article we will use the current rumor of the day — a 24-team expanded playoff format.
The Main Ingredients
While there are literally dozens of points that will need to be agreed upon between the league, the players association, and the host city, there are five absolute musts; housing for teams and support staff, availability of ice for practice and games, addressing safety, the ability to create and maintain a bubble, and how to safely produce the games for TV.
Housing the Players and Staffs
This is where Las Vegas wins the day and there is not even a close second place. It’s not relevant that the city has over 150,000 rooms. What makes Las Vegas ideal is that all six teams, their support staff AND FAMILIES can all stay in one hotel complex. The Mandalay Bay / Delano / Four Seasons has 4,751 rooms and suites. MGM Resorts has already announced that when Las Vegas as a city re-opens, that it will only open New York New York and Bellagio.
The ability of MGM to open Mandalay / Delano / Four Seasons with it’s 20-plus restaurants, multiple pools, and all the amenities of luxury resorts allows the NHL to house it’s entire Pacific Division operation under two roofs.
Availability of Ice
There are two significant aspects of the ice-availability issue. Sheets usable for full TV production and broadcast, and sheets available for practice.
For broadcast, Las Vegas has the T-Mobile Arena, home of the Golden Knights. Additionally, the MGM Grand Garden Arena has hosted NHL games in the past and the Thomas & Mack Center was the home arena for the IHL Las Vegas Thunder in the ’90s. Having three broadcast-ready venues within five miles allows the NHL to televise multiple games at the same time and nightly.
For practice and training, the Golden Knights opened the $50 million City National Arena in Summerlin, 20 minutes northwest of T-Mobile Arena, featuring two sheets of ice and state-of-the-art training and medical rehab facilities.
Additionally, there are two sheets at the Las Vegas Ice Center where the Golden Knights skated prior to City National being open. With likely six teams in the Pacific Region playoff bracket or whatever they decide to call it, and four sheets of ice available for practice, Las Vegas easily checks that box.
Managing the Safety Concern
This is where Las Vegas as a host city excels. First as stated above, the players, team staff and families will all be housed in a single hotel complex that offers them all the amenities of a luxury resort. That “bubble” will allow for standardized testing on an agreed upon schedule as well as the ability to quarantine any person that happens to test positive.
Because Las Vegas has arguably the largest transportation service of limos and tour buses of any major city in the world, the issue of getting the players to and from facilities is managed easily. The NHL would need only to contract with one or more local companies for a specific group of vehicles. Those vehicles will only be used by the teams and support staff. Regular cleaning and disinfecting of those vehicles as well as ONLY having tested players and staff board them limits the possibility of infection. Obviously the drivers will be tested daily before boarding their bus and will wear full safety clothing.
The four sheets of ice for practice will also be used exclusively by the NHL. They will not be open to the public at all. Stringent cleaning and disinfecting protocols will be set up to ensure the safety of the players and staffs of the teams. All rink employees will be tested upon arrival for work and will wear protective masks, gloves, etc. The rinks should be closed between team practices for full cleanings.
Game Night Production
It seems clear that if the NHL resumes play, the games will be played without fans in attendance. Just because there are no fans cheering their team on does not mean the arena will be empty. Here is a partial list of people that will have to be tested before they enter the arena:
- Players, coaches and support staff
- Officials, both on and off ice
- NHL staff
- Broadcast production staff, cameramen, sound techs
- Media members
- Arena security
- Food and beverage staff
- Ice crew, zamboni drivers
- Family members
When all is said and done, it is not unreasonable to think that there will be between 200-300 people on-site for each NHL game broadcast. Each and every one of those non-team-affiliated persons will have to be tested upon arrival at the arena. Protective masks would be encouraged and social distancing guidelines can easily be followed with the notable exception of in-game officials who sit as a group at the scorer’s table and penalty box. Those officials would be required to wear masks and gloves as there is the potential for direct contact with the players.
Some Intangibles to Consider
Again, I mean no disrespect whatsoever to the great cities of Vancouver and Edmonton. Those cities are rumored to be in consideration to host the Pacific portion of the expanded playoffs.
Related: Vegas Should Get a Winter Classic
But let’s be honest, if you are a player or staff member or family member faced with the prospect of being away from your home for potentially up to eight weeks, is there really any other choice but Las Vegas? I think not.
Vegas even under quarantine offers everything a player and his family could want. From the weather to comfort to entertainment to recreation to relaxation, Las Vegas has hospitality mastered.
The Mandalay Bay / Delano / Four Seasons plan outlined here is only one possible option amongst many that would be viable. But I am not going to turn this into a novel by writing about more options.
In the end, Las Vegas is the only clear choice for the NHL when It comes to a host city for the Pacific Division playoff rounds.