Vancouver's NHL hub bid ends after B.C. declines to relax COVID health rules

adrian dix

Vancouver - once a front-runner to host half of the 24 National Hockey League teams as a hub city in the league's restart plan - is officially out of the bidding process.

The Vancouver Canucks hockey club issued a statement on Twitter late Thursday confirming the fact, thanking provincial officials for their effort to try to bring the relaunched NHL season to the city.

"From the beginning, our goal was to help the NHL get hockey back on the ice if we could," said Canucks Sports & Entertainment COO Trent Carroll in the statement. "Although Vancouver won't be a Hub City, we are still excited to see hockey start up again."

Earlier in the day, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province will not relax public health safety rules that may have undermined Vancouver's bid to host the NHL’s resumption of play next month.

At a press conference Thursday, Dix was adamant that the tight regulations surrounding COVID-19 in B.C. have been the driving force behind the province being one of the top performers in fighting the pandemic in North America – something that the NHL should not ignore in its considerations of hub cities.

“I love the NHL,” Dix said, when asked about the Vancouver-NHL bid potentially being scuttled. “I love the idea of hockey coming here. But I’m also the minister of health, and the players and the fans – and those working at the arenas and everyone in British Columbia – expect the rules to apply to everybody. And that’s our advantage in this; it’s not our disadvantage.”

Multiple media reports emerged on Wednesday that Vancouver’s bid – which by late last week was widely seen as a front-runner in landing the role of hosting 12 of the 24 NHL teams scheduled to resume play in late July – has been derailed over what the protocols are if a player tests positive during the resumed season.

Whether the players and their families can be in the same quarantine “bubble” has emerged as another point of contention as the NHL narrows its options to six cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Chicago. Until Wednesday, Vancouver was considered with Las Vegas as overwhelming favourites in the process.

Another sign of Vancouver losing its bid came Thursday afternoon, when JW Marriott Parq - one of the hotels which featured heavily in the "bubble" concept for the Vancouver bid, reportedly to be used for housing players and team staff if the city hosted an NHL hub - announced it is opening its doors to the public on June 27. The opening to the public would make it much more difficult for the hotel to be part of an "NHL hub bubble" as the Vancouver bid originally intended.

A tweet by Global BC’s Richard Zussman went as far as saying “the NHL has moved on” from Vancouver, but Dix said the change does not reflect any breakdown on the provincial side of the equation.

“There’s no breakdown,” Dix said. “Vancouver – and anybody who has been paying any attention at all knows this – is the best possible place for them to come because we enforce public health rules in B.C. thoroughly and completely. This is the reason to come.

“The NHL will make its own decisions. They are very intelligent people, and they will have their own considerations – considerations that might make Las Vegas or somewhere else a better location than Vancouver. But frankly … this is the place to come, and I hope they come.

“We’ve made our pitch, our case. We make it at three o’clock every day – which is that public health comes No. 1 in B.C. That matters to the NHL, and that should matter to everybody else.”

As of Tuesday, B.C. has reported fewer than 20 daily new COVID cases for almost all of June; that number has hovered closer to 10 in recent weeks. This compares favourably with every other jurisdiction with a host-city bid; Alberta's daily new cases have hovered between 30 and 50 for the last two weeks, while Ontario's daily figure fell below 200 this week.