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L.A. not chosen as NHL hub city for revamped Stanley Cup playoffs

Staples Center before the final game of the Kings' 2019-20 season against the Ottawa Senators on March 11.
(Jack Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles will not be chosen as a hub city for the revamped Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL informed the Kings on Wednesday.

The decision, which was confirmed by a team official, came amid various media reports indicating the league is focusing on Edmonton and Toronto as its host sites for the 24-team restart plan.

“We appreciate the opportunity to be considered as a Hub City for the NHL’s return to play,” said Kings President Luc Robitaille. “From the outset we felt as though we had all the key elements to provide a safe and efficient environment to help the game of hockey start back up again and complete the 2019-20 season. We respect the NHL’s decision to go elsewhere and we look forward to seeing the NHL’s return in the coming weeks.”

The league initially considered hosting proposals from at least a dozen cities before narrowing the list on May 26 to 10 sites it believed could meet its specific requirements. At the time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the final selection would be delayed in order for league executives to gather the most up-to-date information on each city’s COVID-19 status and the ability to test players and team personnel in those cities without taking tests away from the general public.

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Fifteen NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 of the league’s Return to Play program began, the league said Monday, bringing the total announced positive tests among players to 26.

The league remains in Phase 2 of its Return to Play plan, with players allowed to work out at team facilities in small groups on a voluntary basis. Phase 3, which features the opening of full training camps, will start July 10 if local health restrictions permit and if the NHL and NHL Players’ Assn. agree on several undecided issues.

Los Angeles seemed to have the advantage of being a neutral site because the Kings did not qualify for the expanded playoffs. It also has a main arena (Staples Center) that’s capable of hosting three games a day while maintaining strictly prescribed health and safety practices, can offer more than 700 hotel rooms within a short walk to the LA Live complex, and could have provided four sheets of practice ice for teams to use on non-game days.

Because AEG, which owns the Kings, also owns Staples Center and the surrounding hotels and amenities, the site offered the league flexibility for non-hockey events that wouldn’t require players and staff to leave the bubble.

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Southern California, however, has recently experienced a rise in its number of COVID-19 cases even as the state has allowed businesses to reopen.

The likelihood of heavy traffic between the teams’ downtown hotels and practice rinks also presented a potential drawback. Traveling to the Kings’ practice facility in El Segundo can be a long journey, and that facility offers only three ice sheets — one of them smaller than regulation size. Pickwick Ice in Burbank also could have been used, but that also presented possible traffic delays from downtown.

Las Vegas, home of the Vegas Golden Knights, was long considered a favorite as a hub city because of its popularity as a recreational destination, the availability of large numbers of hotel rooms that could be sealed off from public use to limit players’ exposure to the coronavirus, and because of the top-notch facilities available for competition and practice. T-Mobile Arena hosted the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 and the Golden Knights have an excellent practice facility in Henderson.

But Nevada’s rising number of cases reportedly forced the league to re-evaluate its options in the past several days, leading to the likely selection of the two Canadian markets.

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The Kings moved up to second in the NHL draft on Friday, but the winner of the lottery won’t be known until after the qualifying round of the playoffs.

Edmonton has made a public push for hosting games for weeks, with health officials in the province of Alberta outlining guidelines for how such an event could be held safely.

In Toronto, Mayor John Tory has sounded optimistic about his city’s chances of hosting games, saying this week he had his “fingers crossed” the NHL would pick the Maple Leafs’ home market.

The NHL, which paused its season March 12, expanded its playoff field from 16 teams to 24. The top four teams in the East and top four in the West will participate in a non-elimination round-robin series to determine seeding going forward. Teams seeded fifth through 12th will compete in a best-of-five qualifying round.

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All rounds after that will be best-of-seven and teams will be reseeded after each round.


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