HUB-BUB IS OVER FOR HAWKS

Re­ports say Ed­mon­ton, Toronto will host play­offs, not Chicago

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BEN POPE bpope@sun­times.com | @BenPopeCST

Chicago’s fas­ci­nat­ing surge into the five fi­nal­ists to be a hub city for the Stan­ley Cup play­offs is over.

The NHL will, in all like­li­hood, choose Toronto and Ed­mon­ton as its hubs, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple re­ports Wed­nes­day from TSN and Sport­snet.

Las Ve­gas — long con­sid­ered the clear front-run­ner be­cause of its many ho­tels next to T-Mo­bile Arena — ul­ti­mately was passed over be­cause of sky­rock­et­ing coro­n­avirus cases in Ne­vada.

Mean­while, one of Chicago’s big­gest sell­ing points to the NHL had be­come its COVID-19 sit­u­a­tion, with Illi­nois’ num­bers fall­ing dra­mat­i­cally in the last month. But the lack of ho­tels near the United Cen­ter was al­ways a ma­jor road­block.

Ed­mon­ton and Toronto have rel­a­tively en­cour­ag­ing coro­n­avirus sit­u­a­tions — Canada has en­forced quar­an­tine and travel rules more strictly than the U.S. — and nu­mer­ous high-end ho­tels in the blocks sur­round­ing their are­nas. Ed­mon­ton’s Rogers Place, the league’s se­cond-new­est arena, even has a Mar­riott con­nected to it.

The NHL ne­go­ti­ated an agree­ment with Cana­dian of­fi­cials last month that will ex­empt NHL play­ers and staff from those quar­an­tine and travel re­stric­tions, mak­ing Cana­dian cities far more vi­able as hosts than they oth­er­wise would’ve been.

It hasn’t been de­ter­mined whether the con­fer­ences will play in their ge­o­graph­i­cally log­i­cal hubs or switch sides of the con­ti­nent, but if the West­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs take place in Ed­mon­ton, the Black­hawks would face the Oil­ers for their qual­i­fy­ing-round se­ries at the Oil­ers’ home rink.

The ef­fect of that home-ice ad­van­tage would be lim­ited some­what by the lack of fans, but it’s still un­for­tu­nate for the Hawks.

There was a chance the Hawks them­selves might end up with that ad­van­tage. The league had pre­vi­ously elim­i­nated Colum­bus, Dal­las, Min­neapo­lis/St. Paul, Pitts­burgh and Van­cou­ver from its orig­i­nal group of 10 hub-city can­di­dates, nar­row­ing the pool to Chicago, Ed­mon­ton, Las Ve­gas, Los An­ge­les and Toronto.

Area of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Mayor Lori Light­foot and state Rep. Mike Zalewski, had pub­licly cam­paigned for the NHL to choose their city, cit­ing the eco­nomic im­pact it would bring to strug­gling West Loop ho­tels and restau­rants and sub­ur­ban sports­books.

More bad news for Hawks

The NHL news Wed­nes­day didn’t end with the hub-city selec­tions, and none of the other re­ports were good for the Hawks, ei­ther.

The league salary cap will stay at $81.5 mil­lion the next two years, then rise to only $82.5 mil­lion in 2022-23, per Sport­snet.

That’s bad for the Hawks in the short and long term.

In the short term, their many huge con­tracts to ag­ing vet­er­ans — in­clud­ing the par­tic­u­larly re­gret­table one for Brent Seabrook — pro­vide lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity, es­pe­cially with key young for­wards Dylan Strome and Do­minik Kuba­lik up for big raises af­ter the sea­son and goalie Corey Craw­ford a pend­ing free agent.

In the long term, the Hawks’ sta­tus as a high-in­come, big-mar­ket fran­chise makes them fun­da­men­tally dis­ad­van­taged by a strict cap.

Ad­di­tion­ally, non-NHL play­ers signed to NHL con­tracts dur­ing the pan­demic — in­clud­ing the Hawks’ Ian Mitchell — won’t be el­i­gi­ble to play in the up­com­ing play­offs, TSN re­ported. Hawks gen­eral man­ager Stan Bow­man said last month he al­ready has been oper­at­ing un­der that as­sump­tion.

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IM­AGES

The Black­hawks might be play­ing the Oil­ers on the Oil­ers’ home ice.

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