As The Upcoming NHL Season Continues To Take Shape, The Possibility Of Hub Cities Has Resurfaced. Could Columbus Be One Of Them?

By Ed Francis on December 17, 2020 at 8:05 am
Hockey could be coming to Nationwide Arena soon, but will you be allowed in?
Fred Squillante/Columbus Dispatch

The only constant is change.

Hey, just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it's not true.

After several weeks of reports indicated that the NHL was likely to avoid hub cities, league commissioner Gary Bettman indicated Wednesday that hub cities - at least to start the season - are still very much on the table for the eventual start of the 2020-21 season.  

"If enough teams can't play, again, without fans, in their own facilities, then we may have to move more and more towards a hub," said Bettman. "It may be that some teams are playing in other buildings. It may be that a whole group of teams have to play in other buildings."

If enough teams can't play, again, without fans, in their own facilities, then we may have to move more and more towards a hub. – Gary Bettman

The lack of arena availability may not be the only factor driving the league towards the revisitation of the hub concept, however. TSN's Frank Seravalli reported Tuesday on Insider Trading that Bettman has been in touch with Dr. Anthony Fauci throughout the pandemic. 

"One of the recommendations that Dr. Fauci had made to Gary Bettman over the last number of weeks was, 'If you want to pull this off and start the NHL season safely, the best way to do that would be in hubs,'" said Seravalli.

All signs point towards any hubs being less extravagant than the walls that separated the league from the rest of the world in Toronto and Edmonton for the NHL's return to play in August. How long hubs may be used in the upcoming season remains to be seen, however. 

"We don't think we can conduct an entire regular season that way," said Bettman. "But circumstances, depending on where Covid is spiking and where the medical system is being taxed at any given time, may require us to adjust."

As it was earlier in the year, Nationwide Arena is again being mentioned as a potential hub. Multiple rinks to allow practices, a centralized geographical presence, and enough hotel rooms within walking distance to accommodate several NHL teams are all in Columbus' favor. As it did in the summer, though, the number of Coronavirus cases across the state are likely going to give the NHL at least some pause about coming to Ohio. 

If hubs are used, they would certainly be used at the beginning of the season, which the league still hopes can begin sometime in January. Bettman has acknowledged that a full season will not be possible, and both the league and the players' association have stated that a season of somewhere between 50 and 60 games is all but finalized. 

While they would be used as little as possible, a season that starts with hubs would mean that if Columbus is chosen as a host city, Nationwide Arena could be hosting regular season NHL games within a month. 

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