The NHL still is exploring the possibility of finishing the season in centralized locations, and St. Paul might be in the mix.
Two to four cities could be selected to host games when the league returns, and the Wild is interested in being one of those hubs, a source confirmed Tuesday.
During a digital interview earlier this week with Leaders Week, a sports business conference, Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league is evaluating “probably eight or nine different places” that can accommodate “a dozen or so teams in one location.”
This idea took center stage in the NHL’s relaunch efforts after the league backed off the concept of neutral-site games since arenas in non-NHL cities wouldn’t have the infrastructure necessary to stage multiple games each day.
That’s one of the expectations for these hub cities, along with a practice facility and four NHL-caliber locker rooms. Xcel Energy Center has six locker rooms on its event level, and the Tria Rink — the Wild’s practice facility — is less than a mile away.
Despite the NHL focusing on this potential plan, Bettman said “a great deal of uncertainty” persists and there’s no fixed timetable to resume after the league suspended play on March 12 amid the coronavirus pandemic with a combined 189 games to go in the regular season.
Players remain scattered and getting everyone back to their NHL cities might not be easy with border restrictions and quarantine guidelines. The closure of the border between the United States and Canada for nonessential travel was extended another 30 days Tuesday, to June 21, and Bettman said 17% of players are outside North America.
How a centralized setup affects families is also a concern for players.
“Nobody with kids is going to want to be away for three or four months at a time,” Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk said earlier this month.
“I think that’s a lot to ask out of guys.”
Testing is yet another hurdle.
Not only would the NHL need to implement protocols, especially in the event of positive tests, but ensuring it has access to the required resources could be a tricky issue to resolve.
“I am told that there can be enough capacity, and certainly over the next couple of months, there will be more capacity,” Bettman said. “But that is a fundamental question, and we certainly can’t be jumping the line in front of medical needs.”
Still, the NHL and NHL Players Association has a Return to Play Committee in place and a 24-team format is reportedly at the forefront of discussions.
And although the league has yet to open team facilities for small group activities — the next step that would pave the way for an eventual training camp — it believes it can play late into the summer without compromising a complete, 82-game schedule for next season.
“We’d like to complete this season,” Bettman said in comments reported on nhl.com. “We’d like to award the Stanley Cup, the most treasured trophy and the most historic trophy in all of sports. And our fans are telling us overwhelmingly that’s what they’d like us to do, because people have an emotional investment in this season already.”