Why Edmonton was named a hub city for NHL relaunch

Game on, Edmonton.

Reports that the Alberta capital will join Toronto as an NHL hub city appear to be a welcome win for Premier Jason Kenney, who has worked hard to woo the league.

Although nothing is set in stone yet, an industry source told the Star that the two Canadian cities have been all but approved to host the NHL’s post-pandemic return.

In May, Kenney wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asking for the federal government to relax quarantine rules for players.

“I believe that the NHL playoffs could play a key part in the economic relaunch of Alberta,” he said.

While Edmonton doesn’t have the global reputation of a Las Vegas or even Vancouver, the city has the advantage of a relatively new arena built for the Oilers, which opened downtown in 2016. It’s surrounded by what is known as the Ice District, a cluster of hotels, bars and other entertainment venues that advocates say will make it easier to keep players and team staff close to both each other and the ice.

Edmonton has also managed to keep coronavirus under control so far — there are currently about 250 active cases in the city of over a million, and the majority of Alberta’s cases this spring have centred around Calgary, to the south. Meanwhile, the province has emerged as one of the country’s leaders for initiatives such as testing and handing out free masks.

The province has said it was working on more flexible isolation rules for teams coming from the U.S., including creating a “cohort quarantine.”

Though some of Kenney’s tactics have raised eyebrows — including an Edmonton promo video that failed to include the actual city of Edmonton — he has consistently argued that resuming the league in the Alberta capital would be a much-needed boost for a petro-friendly province grappling not only with the economic ripple effects of coronavirus but the fallout of crashing oil prices.

The announcement has also been met with optimism from local business leaders.

“Our community will welcome the NHL with open arms, as this will give us a much-needed dose of excitement and serve as a huge boost to our recovery efforts,” Edmonton Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Janet M. Riopel said in an email.

But some economists are skeptical about what the actual economic impact will be.

Moshe Lander, an economist who lives in Edmonton but works for Concordia University in Montreal, said he believed Edmonton being selected as a hub city was “not going to have a huge impact.”

He anticipated it will bring in about $ 15 to $ 20 million in economic activity.

“It’s better than a punch in the face,” Lander said. “But you know where I think Premier Kenney got out in front of this cheerleading and talking about how it was gonna bring you know thousands of jobs or tens of millions of dollars of economic activity, he is prone to a little bit of hyperbole and probably overstated it.

“This is not the recovery imminent.”

Edmonton’s service industry will benefit the most, through the players being in town and shopping, going to restaurants and bars and renting hotel rooms.

“How many jobs are we talking about? If you imagine that each team travels as an entourage of about 100 people, you know, 25 players, plus your coaches, they bring the managers, their spouses maybe, maybe their kids. You’re talking about 1,200 people, that’s going to fill say, eight hotels,” Lander said.

But he pointed out even then, those roughly 1,200 people won’t be in Edmonton for the full three months because half of the teams go home after the first round.

Speaking in late May, Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province was working on more flexible rules for teams coming from the U.S., such as creating a “cohort quarantine.”

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“A group that came in from international travel, such as an individual team, would have to stay together in that quarantine period and would not be able to interact with others outside of that cohort group,” she said.

“They would be effectively sealed off from the rest of the community.”

After the 14-day quarantine ended, people would be free to travel.

With files from Omar Mosleh, Rosa Saba and the Canadian Press

TORONTO STAR