The last thing the NHL people told Stu Ballantyne of the Oilers Entertainment Group when the Stanley Cup playoffs were over and they were checking out of the Hub City bubble was this:
“Don’t sell anything. Don’t give anything away to anybody. Don’t throw anything away.”
In other words, they might be back.
The NHL’s Hub City bubble looked like it might be resurrected and re-erected for another go-around after the International Ice Hockey Federation world junior championships Hub City bubble tournament in town this holiday season.
At first, the expectation — and it still could happen — would be for a series of two-week bubbles with a round-robin slate of regular-season games within newly created one-year-only regional divisions.
But word out of both virtual NHL Board of Governor and NHL Players Association meetings Thursday was the NHL isn’t giddy about the idea of paying the expenses involved in building bubbles, and the players have little interest in experiencing life inside one again.
The players want to play as many games as possible, for obvious financial reasons. And the owners don’t want their franchises to totally disappear from the consciousness of their fans, as we watched happen with the Canadian Football League. So, they’ll find a way.
The only thing that seemed 90 per cent certain coming out of Thursday’s meetings was that whatever was involved, there would be a Canadian Division.
With the recent rise in COVID numbers, it’s obvious the Canada-USA border isn’t likely to be open before the NHL returns to play an abbreviated schedule. And it’s going to be many more weeks before the NHL can contemplate having fans in the stands.
So, let’s use the Canadian Division and the Oilers an example of the plan that seems to now be under development.
Instead of moving teams from one hub to the next with some breaks to return home and spend time with their families, it appears they’re looking at the baseball model.
During the 162-game MLB season, teams fly from city to city and play three-game series.
So, consider an NHL season opening with Edmonton in Montreal for games Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, on to Ottawa for three more Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and then down to Toronto for games Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
That’s nine games in 15 days.
The Oilers would then head home and play three against Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver.
Then do it again in reverse.
That’s 36 games. Don’t schedule beyond that. Wait to see how the coronavirus plays out. Personally, I’d reject the baseball model and adopt the college hockey model. I believe it would work better with two-game series.
Think Edmonton at Montreal on Saturday and Sunday, the Oilers in Ottawa Tuesday and Wednesday and Edmonton would play in Toronto Friday and Saturday. With that road trip completed, it would then be back to Edmonton for a couple of days off followed by a pair against each of Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver in Rogers Place.
That would be two home and two away games against all six teams and a total of 24 games.
Do it all again and it’s 48.
That gives you two opportunities to make midcourse corrections in the event of a vaccine or dramatically reduced numbers.
A logical expectation would be for a 48- to 60-game season.
Whatever, you should know that the Oilers have been actively exploring their options, especially to be prepared for the possibility of both the NHL team and the Western Hockey League Oil Kings both requiring places to hold training camp with the world juniors taking over Rogers Place.
Some of the locations the Oilers and Oil Kings are considering for training camps include: NAIT, the University of Alberta, Terwilliger Rec Centre (which they used when the NHL hub was here), St. Albert and Leduc.
“If the NHL goes to training camp during the world junior, we’re looking at a few scenarios,” said Oilers Tim Shipton, who along with Ballentyne were the two organizational point people for the highly successful hosting of the Stanley Cup playoffs including both conference finals and Stanley Cup final.
“We require a facility that can accommodate on-ice activities as well as off-ice training, fitness and treatments,” he said. “We’re exceptionally fortunate to have several options in Edmonton.
“It’s the same of the requirements for the Oil Kings. We’re looking at several options.”
Should the NHL revert back to the rotating bubble idea, Shipton believes Edmonton would be Option A.
“We know how to do a bubble and are ready, willing and able to host again. We could roll with a bubble at any time.”
Meanwhile, if the COVID numbers are still up there and we’re still waiting on a vaccine when the playoffs roll around …
Hello, Stu Ballantyne.
“Remember when we told you: ‘Don’t sell anything. Don’t give anything away to anybody. Don’t throw anything away?’”
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @byterryjones
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