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Tampa Bay players test positive for Covid-19 as hub city talk heats up

The Lightning skaters are now in self-isolation, but what does this development mean for the NHL's Return to Play plan? Plus, could the two hubs come from the same division?
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

As conversations about hub cities heat up, the NHL - and other major sports - has been hit with cases of Covid-19. Most notably, three players from the Tampa Bay Lightning (plus additional staffers) tested positive for the virus, leading to the shutdown of team training facilities.

Florida has seen a spike in Covid-19 cases this week, breaking its single-day record today with 3,822 reported infections. The Tampa Bay area was responsible for nearly one-quarter of those cases, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The Lightning posted a press release about the infections, noting that the players are currently self-isolating and asymptomatic, other than some low-grade fevers.

Right now, the NHL is in Phase 2 of its Return to Play protocol, which means players are allowed to skate and practise together in small groups, but are not mandated to do so. Phase 3 has been scheduled for July 10. Under that escalation, formal training camps for the 24 teams involved in the post-season picture would begin.

Along with the Lightning skaters, baseball players from the Philadelphia Phillies and football players from Clemson University have also reportedly come down with the virus recently. Hockey's decision-makers now have to look at that July 10 start date for Phase 3 and ask whether or not continuing on is prudent.

The most conservative option of course would be to either delay or cancel the playoff tournament outright. That would make a harsh financial situation even harsher for the NHL, but it would allow for a full reset in the fall, as major junior leagues are planning right now.

On the other end of the spectrum, the NHL - assuming the league gets support from the players - could simply steam full-speed ahead, despite the Tampa positives and what will, undoubtedly be more player cases in the coming days and weeks.

The plan for the qualifying round and playoffs is for teams to be contained in 'bubbles' in two hub cities, with stringent testing throughout. In this scenario, it doesn't really matter what's going on in the outside world because those participating won't be a part of it.

Speaking of hub cities, it really seems as though Vegas and Edmonton are the front-runners right now (though it seems players would like Toronto as one of the options). Nevada's cases have been spiking of late, but again - the teams would be isolated from all the gamblers and tourists who have flocked back to the city in recent weeks. What Vegas does have is the hotel capacity and hockey facilities to handle 12 NHL teams and everyone associated with them.

Edmonton also has some pretty sweet new facilities and hotels and the city has been quite vigilant with Covid-19: there were only 46 new cases today and no deaths.

Truly, the only drawback from having both Vegas and Edmonton as the two hubs is that the Golden Knights and Oilers play in the same division and are both still alive in the race for the Stanley Cup. Ideally, no team would play at home during this very-different post-season and that would be unavoidable in this scenario. On the other hand, there won't be any fans in the building, so home-ice advantage would be all but nullified.


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