The NHL’s 2020-21 season is currently set to begin on Jan. 1, 2021, but the league has yet to announce any division re-alignments or hub cities. With rumours of an all-Canadian division, the Buffalo Sabres most likely see themselves playing in a restructured Atlantic Division alongside the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. If this is the case, Buffalo could serve as an exceptional hub city for their division with KeyBank Center being connected to the Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter hotel and having access to 13 dressing rooms; four in KeyBank Center and nine in the attached Harborcenter. If the NHL decides to use a bubble model for part of next season, the chances of Buffalo being a host city are very high.
A Bubble in Buffalo Would Be Extremely Convenient
If the NHL decides to use KeyBank Center, Harborcenter and Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter as their main amenities, they can conveniently build their entire bubble within an area of a few blocks inside the heart of downtown Buffalo. What’s more, the Harborcenter is owned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE), the Sabres’ ownership group, so it would be much more convenient for the league to organize and plan a bubble in Buffalo than in other cities where they would need to make special arrangements with third-party venues.
All three of PSE’s buildings are located in the city’s beautiful Canalside district within the inner harbour of Buffalo, also home to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. This would provide players, team staff and the media with a relaxing and enjoyable environment during their stay in the bubble, especially if they are there for the warmer months. As for the colder portion of the season, the venues are interconnected and make for an easy commute between buildings with minimal outdoor walking.
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In addition, Buffalo is situated just across Lake Ontario from Toronto, who served as an outstanding host for the Eastern Conference in the 2020 NHL Playoffs. If Toronto is named as a hub city again for the 2020-21 season, the NHL will have two bubbles located within a 90-minute drive of each other. This could prove highly convenient for managing and distributing the league’s resources and personnel with short travel times between bubbles, especially if the Canadian-American border opens up to allow city-to-city team rotations.
History of Successful NHL Events Hosted in Buffalo
Buffalo hosted the first-ever NHL Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium versus the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 1, 2008. The game set an NHL attendance record with a turnout of 71,217 fans. Since then, it has been an annual tradition for the league to schedule an outdoor Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, including the Sabres’ second hosting of the game in 2018 against the New York Rangers at Citi Field. Although Buffalo remains winless in outdoor games, they have led the way for the NHL’s most anticipated yearly event besides the Stanley Cup Final.
The NHL has also trusted Buffalo as the host of their annual Scouting Combine since 2015 and will continue to do so until at least 2022. The event is held between late May and early June each year and allows teams the opportunity to personally interview and assess the health and physical fitness of draft-eligible prospects in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Some of the most notable players formerly scouted in Buffalo include Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and the Sabres’ Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin.
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There has been no official statement by the NHL regarding possible hub city locations, but with all things considered, it is more than reasonable to assume Buffalo will be high on their list if they choose to use a bubble model for 2020-21.
Tom Pepper hosts The Hockey Writers Podcast and writes the “NHL Talk” column every weekday (Monday to Friday). He also writes the daily “NHL Storylines” column. He is a diehard Buffalo Sabres fan in Toronto, frequently driving the Queen Elizabeth Way to cheer on his team at KeyBank Center.