New York (AFP) – The National Hockey League favors Toronto and Edmonton as hub cities for its return from a COVID-19 shutdown and in a separate development is planning to send players to the 2022 and 2026 Olympics, according to multiple reports Wednesday.
Canada’s The Sports Network and ESPN reported that the league wants the two Canadian cities as hosts for Eastern and Western Conference playoff games in its restart plan, which is set to see training camps open on July 10.
The NHL had reportedly trimmed its candidates for hub hosts to those two markets plus Chicago and Las Vegas, but spiking COVID-19 poisitive cases have been reported at record levels in the United States in the past week.
No deal will be official until the league and NHL Players Association sign and ratify a new collective bargaining agreement.
TSN also reported the tentative deal would allow NHL players to participate in the 2022 Beijing and 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics after the league skipped the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
NHL players had competed in every Olympics starting at Nagano in 1998 until two years ago.
The NHL shut down its 2019-20 season on March 12 over COVID-19 concerns with just over three weeks remaining in the campaign ahead of two months of Stanley Cup playoffs.
An NHL return to the ice plan will send 12 teams each from the East and West into bubble environments with daily COVID-19 testing in two hub cities.
The top four teams in each conference will play each other to determine playoff seedings while the other eight clubs meet in best-of-five play-in series, those winners facing the higher seeds to start the best-of-seven playoff rounds.
The NHL has not announced a return timetable other than planning to have teams gather next week to begin workouts.
The league and union have worked on a new collective bargaining deal and reportedly could have it ready for signing by Friday or Saturday.
Terms reportedly include a return opt-out option for any player and an extension of all contracts that were due to expire Wednesday.
The NHL is likely to stage the Stanley Cup Final in October, more than a year after the season launched.