Even for people who are used to living the millionaire lifestyle, this doesn’t look too bad.
The NHL released a video this week detailing what the bubbles will be like in the hub cities tabbed to host the playoffs and it appears the players are going to be very comfortable.
In Edmonton, where the Winnipeg Jets are headed to take on the Calgary Flames in the qualifying round of the 24-team tournament, sidewalks will be fenced off for NHL bubble access between Rogers Place and three downtown hotels.
The three hotels, a fourth one further away, and 14 restaurants will be included in the bubble. Some of the restaurants are already established downtown, while others will be pop ups where players and staff can get pretty much any food they might desire from early morning until late night.
Each player hotel will have meal rooms, meeting rooms for coaches, players and training staff and VIP areas. Teams will have their own floors.
There will be indoor and outdoor activities, including pool, ping pong, cornhole, basketball, areas to play soccer and to run.
The secure zone will also include eight movie theatres.
In Toronto there will be tennis and pickleball facilities as well, plus access to BMO Field, where the Argos normally play, for outdoor training.
Inside Rogers Place and Scotiabank Arena — which will host the Eastern Conference teams — each team will have a suite and a player lounge that will include areas to view games and view TV shows, card tables and eating areas.
The Edmonton bubble will include 13 fitness centres, including weight rooms, and practice ice rinks.
Players will also be allowed to attend games in the arenas when their team is not involved. Their coronavirus testing facility will be right inside the arena as well.
It probably doesn’t make up for having to spend up to two months away from their families in the summer, but it sounds pretty cushy overall for the players.
INDEPENDENT MEDIA SHUT OUT
As an aside to all this, independent media will not be allowed inside the bubble in either NHL city and will be given limited digital access to players and coaches for the duration of the playoffs.
I’ll be one of the media members heading to Edmonton, and I’m OK in general with the rules because it’s about safety — for the players, coaches, the media members themselves and the general public.
I appreciate that COVID-19 has made life incredibly difficult for so many people and so many have made sacrifices. People haven’t spent time with loved ones in four months because they are trying to do the right thing and be safe.
So some context is required if you read or hear about independent media members who are questioning why they are being kept out of the secure zone.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association tried to get the NHL to grant access to the inside of the bubble to a few media members and was denied.
The NBA is allowing 17 independent media members inside the bubble — at the considerable cost of $750 a day — and the PHWA was hoping for the same type of access for at least a small number of its members.
It didn’t happen, so now independent media members will only be allowed to watch games from the press box and have no other on-site access. They will not be allowed to cover practices or gameday skates and will do all interviews over Zoom.
The issue people have about this is that the NHL very recently decided to allow 15 reporters, who work for the league or the teams, inside each of the bubbles.
There will be three NHL.com writers in each secure zone and one content creator from each team.
So, essentially, the NHL intends to cover its own playoffs and provide a sanitized, edited, redacted version of what’s going on inside the bubble and on the ice.
As an example of this, consider that NHL.com writers are not allowed to write the word ‘concussion’ or mention fights in their stories and are not permitted to write about questionable officiating.
As a member of the independent media, representing readers who want original stories, columns and features that are not league presentations, I say what the NHL is doing is wrong.
I know some fans and readers see this as media whining.
But it’s not questioning the need for safety in a pandemic. It’s about having a level playing field and independent coverage of an event going on in a Canadian city that has graciously opened its hotels, streets restaurants and arenas to the NHL.
If anything unusual, untoward, troublesome, or remotely negative happens in the bubble, will we ever hear about it?
Likely not. That’s a shame.
CFL STILL UP IN THE AIR
First we were told the deadline for the Canadian Football League and its Players Association to form a plan for a shortened season in the hub city of Winnipeg would be on Thursday.
Then we were told the deadline was actually Friday all along.
Then we went through the day Friday, only to find out the CFL has delayed the self-imposed deadline until they get an answer from the federal government, regarding funding and get official decisions from health authorities.
Personally, I’m OK with all of that. Best to get all your ducks in a row before making any proclamations.
It gives me hope that the league and Players Association are doing their due diligence and not getting ahead of themselves. To me, that’s the only way they will get this done, even though so many people believe it will never happen.
Players who are not involved in the bargaining process are getting antsy. Some are considering not playing even if there is a season because the financial compensation won’t be worth it in a shortened season, conducted inside a bubble.
But there should be appreciation that both sides are trying and the government is even considering financial support, which will help to pay both Canadian and American athletes this season.
A tweet sent out by Montreal Alouettes tackle Tony Washington this week was not at all constructive, as he put the onus for all of this on the Liberal government.
“Everybody check this out. It’s not the CFL or the PA. So stop it with the rumors. Nothing moves without the federal government funding us what we need … period! If you have any questions on whether the CFL will play, call parliament … We ready for a deal to play, gov is not.”
As much as I want to see a CFL season this year, laying this on the government is not right at all. They may or may not come through with the funding and that decision will certainly affect the league greatly.
But beggars cannot be choosers.
MADE FOR TV
The NHL won’t use any cardboard cut outs in the stands or virtual fans during the games in Toronto and Edmonton, but will rather focus on “bringing arenas to life through video and audio and lighting.”
Each team will have its own goal song, it’s goal horn, and the music they normally play in individual arenas. There will also be “chant videos” that involve fans from each market and video game maker EA Sports will supply virtual crowd noise.
There will be large monitors in the arena to bring the virtual atmosphere to the players.
The playoffs are a made-for-TV product so expect to see things you’ve never seen before in an NHL game. There will be 32 cameras in each building, 12 more than normal.
The angles and the technology should be impressive and the games should resemble something between an NHL20 game and what fans are normally used to seeing.
It will be sanitized before it gets to people’s homes though, as the league is implementing a five-second delay on broadcasts in order to filter out bad language and other image-busting moments.
CHEERS TO THE KRAKEN
Seattle Kraken is a cool name, and the jerseys and colours look great.
The NHL really seems to have nailed this expansion thing, by not rushing things. Vegas was a huge success and there’s no reason to believe Seattle will be any different.
I still don’t think they should stack the team through the expansion draft the way they did the Golden Knights. It’s not fair to the long-standing organizations and their fan bases to have teams come in and be Stanley Cup finalists in their first year.
They don’t have to stink, like in the old days, but they don’t have to be one of the best teams in the league either.
Great story, yes, but fair? No.
Still, the league will use the same expansion draft rules in 2021 with the Kraken as they used with the Golden Knights, except Vegas — now one of the deepest organizations in the league — doesn’t have to give up a player.
Guess that’s what money can buy. The Golden Knights paid an expansion fee of $500 million and the Kraken paid $650 million.
And still it seems they got sweet deals.
Had there been no pandemic, I would have been in Tokyo today, covering my fourth Olympics for Postmedia. I was very much looking forward to the opportunity to travel to a beautiful country to cover Manitobans like triathlete Tyler Mislawchuk, swimmer Kelsey Wog and road cyclist Leah Kirchmann. My curling colleague, Melissa Martin, was even trying to teach me some Japanese.
Alas, it didn’t happen for me or anyone else as the Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 virus.
There’s hope they’ll be held in 2021, but they’ll surely look a lot different if the International Olympic Committee is even able to pull them off.
I feel truly terrible for the athletes who were training so hard to get there this year. Their last four years have revolved around getting there.
If there’s one thing I’ve taken from being able to cover the Games in Sochi, Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang, it’s that getting to the Olympics is life fulfilling for the athletes. It’s everything they work for and you can see and hear the pride in their faces and voices once they arrive.
First timers look around in wonder, soak up every second of the experience and enjoy every minute, even if they don’t win a medal or even finish in the top 50.
It’s an experience every athlete — and to be honest, every media member — should have at least once.
Here’s hoping everyone who would have gone this year, gets to go in 2021.
It was interesting to see Jets defenceman Anthony Bitetto reveal that he tested positive for COVID-19 in June and missed the first nine days of training camp while finishing up a 29-day quarantine.
He didn’t have to.
The NHL and the Jets are not revealing that information, so it’s entirely up to the player.
It’s good to see that Bitetto thought it was important to relay his story. It’s a cautionary tale. He was being extra careful for a long time, but when Nashville opened up and things got looser in the city where he spends the off-season, he caught the coronavirus.
This is precisely why NHL players are going into a bubble in the first place.
I must say it was refreshing to have Bitetto back with the Jets on Thursday. He tells it like it is with the media, has a good sense of humour and keeps things light, even when talking about a serious subject.
“You’re always concerned when you first hear (about it),” Jets coach Paul Maurice said of the time he first heard about Bitetto’s positive test. “And then, you sent him a text and you say you’re going to call him as soon as (he) feels up to it and he sends a three-page text back telling how great he is and there’s profanity involved about how bad he wants to be at the rink.
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