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NHL shifts focus to Toronto, Edmonton as hub cities

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The National Hockey League is expected to choose the Canadian markets of Edmonton and Toronto as its two hub cities in the league’s 24-team, return-to-play plan in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

An official decision is expected later this week, according to multiple reports.

Other North American cities that had been in consideration included Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Pittsburgh, and Vancouver.

Las Vegas has previously been considered a lock to become a host venue, but a sharp upward spike in positive coronavirus cases in Nevada in recent weeks appears to have put off the league and its players.

According to ESPN, it would also be cheaper for the NHL to stage games in two Canadian cities.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently said the NHL would be welcomed so long as local health authorities approve the return-to-play provisions. The league also negotiated with Canadian officials an exemption for NHL players and staff from that country’s travel ban and quarantine rules. 

The league and NHL Players Association have targeted July 10 for teams to open training camps. 

In May, the NHL announced it had canceled the remainder of its 2019-20 regular season and would go straight into an expanded 24-team playoff format if it was able to resume play amid the coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, the NHL and the NHLPA are also in talks to finalize a new collective bargaining agreement, with those talks essentially intertwined with the ongoing return-to-play efforts. It is believed players will be able to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and potentially the 2026 Games in Milan Cortina, as part of the broader labor negotiations.

NHL players did not take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The current CBA expires at the end of the 2021-22 season. According to ESPN, a six-year term for the new agreement is being discussed, with two of those years covering the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.