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Spike in COVID-19 cost Las Vegas chance to host NHL restart

Updated July 11, 2020 - 5:44 pm

In the end, the story of Las Vegas losing out on the chance to host the NHL’s historic return-to-play tournament is nothing more than a classic tale of the tortoise and the hare.

Las Vegas was the hare, racing to the lead from a list of 10 candidates to serve as a hub city. The finish line was in sight, and a person with knowledge of the league’s plans at the time told the Review-Journal that on June 25 the city was also set to host the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena.

But like in Aesop’s fable, Las Vegas took a nap on the side of the road, and as new cases of COVID-19 rose in Clark County, other bids steadily moved to the front of the pack.

By the time Las Vegas tried to recover and get back in the race, it was too far behind.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly indicated as much Saturday when he said Las Vegas was bypassed in large part due to the surge of new coronavirus cases locally.

“I can say it was certainly one of the reasons,” Daly said. “I would say that from the start we had very clear and transparent conversations with people in Vegas, and that was true until the end. Obviously, we understand some of the advantages of Vegas and some of the abilities to create the bubble tighter than it might be in other locations.

“But the fact that the COVID rate was spiking outside of what would be the bubble was a concern for us. We certainly had that conversation with the Vegas people.”

Added Commissioner Gary Bettman: “In the final analysis, making sure we were in as free of a COVID-19 environment as possible became paramount.”

The NHL announced Friday it ratified a return-to-play plan and new collective bargaining agreement that will allow the 2019-20 season to be completed.

The 24-team tournament will take place in Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto, with Edmonton hosting the final two rounds of the event. Players and staff will stay in “secure zones” with strict living guidelines, including daily tests for COVID-19.

The Golden Knights are scheduled to open training camp Monday at City National Arena and begin round-robin play against Dallas on Aug. 3 in Edmonton.

MGM Resorts International took the lead on Las Vegas’ bid and its properties would have been used to host players and staff.

By most accounts, Las Vegas and Vancouver, British Columbia, were the front-runners three weeks ago until Vancouver dropped out. But as the league closed in on its decision, Las Vegas saw a record number of new coronavirus cases.

Scott Ghertner, a spokesperson for MGM Resorts International, referred all inquiries to the NHL.

A Knights spokesperson also declined comment and directed questions to the league.

Las Vegas was not a national hotspot for the coronavirus during the early stages of the pandemic but began to see a rise in cases after casinos were reopened in early June.

The state infection rate, the number of confirmed cases divided by the number of people tested, has risen in 23 of the past 24 days, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Nevada surpassed 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the second-largest daily increase since public health officials started releasing data. In response, Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered bars to close Friday in seven counties across the state, including Clark.

In contrast, Edmonton reported 116 new coronavirus cases from July 3 through Thursday, according to data on Alberta.ca.

The Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion reported 130 new cases Saturday, with 42 of those coming from the greater Toronto area.

”At the end of the day, as Gary said from the start, we wanted to pick two hub cities that were really the best from a health and safety standpoint,” Daly said. “And we were concerned given what was happening in Vegas that that was not the case there. That certainly led into the decision we made.”

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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