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NHL now considering return at regional arenas after abandoning neutral-site plan

The National Hockey League has abandoned its plans to restart the season at neutral sites, according to multiple reports.

Venues in North Dakota and New Hampshire, among others, were considered as options to host the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season as they are situated in locations that have not been impacted by the global Covid-19 pandemic as much as the majority of NHL cities.

But this plan is now off the table due to several logistical problems, such as player accommodation, facilities for league and team staff, and the ability to cater for multiple broadcasting crews.

“We can’t play in a small college rink in the middle of a smaller community, because if we’re going to be centralized, we need the back of the house that NHL arenas provide, whether it’s multiple locker rooms, whether it’s the technology, the procedures, the boards and glass, the video replay, the broadcasting facilities,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in an interview with Canadian outlet Sportsnet.

Now, ESPN reports, the league is looking at a solution where one team per division hosts all the games at their home arena. Early favorites include the Carolina Hurricanes (Metro Division), Edmonton Oilers (Pacific Division) and Minnesota Wild (Central Division). A frontrunner from the Atlantic Division is unclear.

Multiple games throughout the day at these sites could be staged in an attempt to finish the regular season in timely fashion. It is hoped the NHL will restart sometime in the summer, possibly July. But all plans remain strictly provisional at present due to the ongoing effects of the public health crisis.

“The particular location could be anywhere that isn’t a hot spot and has what we need both in terms of the arena and having practice facilities, because if you bring in seven or eight clubs to a particular facility and you’re playing lots of games on a regular basis without travel, there does need to be ice for practice,” Bettman said.

Bettman has also acknowledged it “may not be possible” to finish the 2019-20 regular season due to Covid-19.

Florida Panthers president and chief executive Matthew Caldwell said on a re-open Florida task force conference call: “When we feel that players are safe, and we have enough testing and we have enough ways to get back on the ice for us, it’s probably going to be contained at playing at four or five neutral sites. So that’s all being discussed right now. My guess is that we would start with limited fans or empty arenas. So just with the teams and the associated staffs.”

The concept of staging games in alternate sites, and perhaps without fans, has also been considered by the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer.