The Penguins have bid to host NHL-sanctioned and other hockey events before.
A handful of outdoor games in 2011 and ’17. The draft in 2012. And the NCAA’s Frozen Four in 2013.
So the paperwork of that process isn’t anything new to them.
But bidding to host nearly half the league for a handful of weeks during a worldwide pandemic? That’s a unique circumstance.
On Tuesday, the NHL announced a “Return to Play” plan that would have 12 teams being hosted in two cities each for at least a qualifying and round-robin round of postseason play. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman identified 10 NHL cities as possibilities, including Pittsburgh.
The Penguins submitted a bid upwards of two months ago when the NHL was still spitballing ideas to resume play.
“We thought, ‘What better place to get this all started again than Pittsburgh?’ ” Penguins CEO and president David Morehouse said. “We’ve got an internationally renowned medical partner in UPMC to oversee health and safety protocols. We’ve got tremendous facilities in PPG Paints Arena and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex (in Cranberry) that the NHL knows well because we hosted two Stanley Cup Finals in recent years. We’ve got great support from the business community and our political leaders, and, obviously, we think Pittsburgh’s the best hockey town in the country.”
Also named were Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Toronto and Vancouver.
The teams in the cities that are selected may not enjoy home-ice advantage, however. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said teams from host cities may be moved to the other hub in the name of fairness.
The NHL has primarily considered three factors: A region’s infection rate with the coronavirus, the availability of NHL-caliber facilities and support from regional governments as well as corporations, including hotels.
The Pittsburgh region has not been stricken to the same degree as other majors cities. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Allegheny County has recorded 1,828 cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday. Butler County, where the Penguins practice facility is located, has only 222.
In contrast, Philadelphia County has 17,839 cases.
PPG Paints Arena, which is in its 10th season of use, is one of the NHL’s model venues when it comes to staging major events, such as the Stanley Cup Final in 2016 and ’17.
“The league is so familiar with those facilities because we’ve done so many events with them the last four or five years, obviously leading with the two Stanley Cup Finals,” Penguins vice president of communications Tom McMillan said. “They come into your city, and they basically take over your facilities. They know both of our facilities inside and out, the locker rooms, the meeting spaces, the workout areas and all the things you would have to put in your bid.”
Additionally, UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex has two sheets of ice as well as the required amenities beyond the rink — dressing rooms, video technology, training and medical facilities — to service several NHL squads.
Even under normal circumstances, such as bidding to host the World Cup of Hockey or even an International Ice Hockey Federation junior tournament, such a facility has nearly become a requirement.
“Anything that we bid for, it’s essential to what we do,” McMillan said. “When we had the World Cup of Hockey, teams skated up there. Last year, we did the U.S. women and Canadian women national teams. The functionality of that facility … it’s two other sheets of ice in a facility that blows people away when they walk in for what is a ‘practice facility.’ ”
Finally, regional leaders in government and business have endorsed the Penguins’ bid to the NHL.
“The hub would have a positive impact on the region and could benefit businesses that have suffered during the pandemic, including hotels, which would host visiting teams,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said during a press briefing. “I think it would be a good thing for Pittsburgh, and it’s something that I’m hopeful that we’re able to get.”
Fitzgerald, county health officials and the Penguins have discussed how to host games safely, he said.
“We were kind of overwhelmed with the support, with the support of the (regional) business and political leaders,” McMillan said. “We put together a detailed document with a PowerPoint (presentation) and (Morehouse) was able to present to the league. But we had an organizing committee that basically had the name of every major CEO in Pittsburgh.”
A standing relationship with a healthcare entity such as UPMC didn’t hurt, either.
“Probably the leadoff is our connection with UPMC,” McMillan said. “Clearly, the most important thing here is health and safety. They’re an internationally renowned medical facility. Right there, we have automatic expertise in health and safety protocols (and) testing all the things that would be required.”
With pending staff furloughs and hiccups in the plans to redevelop the Civic Arena site (to say nothing of surgeries for injured forwards Nick Bjugstad and Dominik Simon), the past month has not been good for the Penguins by any measure. But they are hopeful their bid to host games has provided a much-needed boost.
“This a tough time for all of us, a lot of companies, a lot of teams,” McMillan said. “It’s really virtually unprecedented. To have the opportunity to come out of it, that’s why we grasp it. It would be really exciting. It’s not just the Penguins. It’s the city. It’s the region.”
“We have a pretty strong bid. There’s a big case to be made for Pittsburgh.”
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