Calgary Arena History the future

The Saddledome is a thousand years old. (Okay, actually 37 years.) But the city and the Calgary Flames are moving forward with plans for a new arena to house hockey and other events and gatherings.

The next big development that’s expected should happen very shortly. After a few months of interviews, the full design team for the new arena is expected to be announced in the next few weeks by the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.

The rumoured design team is a partnership between HOK and Dialog, reported by VenuesNow in late March. The report has neither been confirmed or denied by CMLC. At recent season ticket holder conference calls, Flames brass has joked that the architect isn’t a well-kept secret at this point.

The two logical major contenders for the project were likely HOK (who have a local office, while Dialog is a local firm) and Populous (who are designing the BMO Centre expansion). HOK and Populous have worked on most of the major new arenas lately. Populous is currently at work on the Seattle Center Arena and Belmont Park Arena, and they did T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. HOK has recently worked on Rogers Place and Little Caesars Arena.

The new arena was approved last summer by city council. The full design team is expected to be unveiled in early June, with a high level schematic of the sign unveiled in the fall and detailed renders early in 2021. The ground-breaking is set for July or August 2021, with the building opening in May 2024.

And yes, it continues a nearly 100 year Calgary tradition of building a new arena basically across the street from the previous one. The space for the new arena is a block and a half north of the Saddledome, separated from the ‘Dome by a parking lot and the Stampede Corral by two parking lots.

News and Notes The first-round pick, injury updates, training camp in the United States, and more

There are plenty of details left to hammer out, but the NHL is aiming for a return this summer and the Vancouver Canucks are going to be part of it.

Earlier in the week, Gary Bettman announced that the league and the NHLPA had agreed on a 24-team playoff format with the top four teams in each conference getting a bye while 16 teams taking part in play-in series.

Before the league was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canucks were a bubble team, sitting in a tie with the Nashville Predators for the final wild card seed in the Western Conference. There was a tight six-point gap separating the Canucks and five other teams for the final few playoff positions.

Had the season gone on as normal, the struggling, injury-riddled Canucks had a difficult fight to reach the playoffs and it’s anybody’s guess as to what would have happened. Now, rather than duking it out in that situation for a spot in the final few weeks of the season, the Canucks will face the Minnesota Wild in a five-game playoff series to determine if they move on to the actual playoffs.

If the Canucks beat the Wild, they’ll face the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. That could be any of St. Louis. Vegas, Colorado, or Dallas. Those four teams will be taking part in a round-robin during the play-in series to determine seeding.

If the Canucks lose to the Wild, they’ll be put into the draft lottery. This would also mean that they would keep their first-round pick in 2020. The pick, of course, was dealt to Tampa Bay as part of the J.T. Miller deal last June and has since been traded to New Jersey. The pick has a condition on it that stipulates that the Canucks will only give it away if they make the playoffs. If they miss, they keep it, and Tampa Bay (now New Jersey) will get their 2021 first-round pick no matter what.

Vancouver could still win the draft lottery and end up with a top pick at the draft come fall. The two-stage lottery process is a bit confusing this year. The seven teams that won’t be returning to action will be in the first stage along with eight placeholders that represent the eight teams who will be knocked out of the play-in round. If any of the top three draft slots are awarded to the eight placeholder team, there will be a second stage to the draft lottery that includes the teams who lost their play-in series.

So, whether you’re on Team Tank or Team Win, you have something to cheer for. If you want Vancouver to get a top pick this year, you can hope the Wild win the series because the Canucks could then be in a position to get a Top-3 pick. If you want a playoff run, well, then you can simply cheer for the Canucks to beat the Wild.

A major boon for the Canucks in this format is that it’s given them time to recover from the injuries that they were dealing with. As I said earlier, Vancouver was limping into a challenging, pivotal stretch in their schedule at the time of the pause, but now, they’ll be able to face the Wild healthy and rested.

Most importantly, Jacob Markstrom has been given plenty of time to rest after undergoing a procedure on his knee. Markstrom, who had clearly been the Canucks’ MVP this season, played his last game on Feb. 22.

The Canucks could also get Micheal Ferland and Josh Leivo back in the lineup for their play-in series, though neither player’s status is guaranteed. Both players were expected to miss the remainder of the season, so getting them back would be a nice boost to the team’s depth.

Whatever happens, this should be a positive learning experience for the Canucks, who haven’t been in the playoffs since 2015. Key members of Vancouver’s young core like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Brock Boeser have never seen competitive late-season hockey, so, while this very different than normal, it’ll offer them some experience.

“Like we’ve been saying the last couple of years, we want them to play meaningful games down the stretch when the hockey matters,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning told reporters after the NHL announced Tuesday its ambitious 24-team playoff tournament. “The intensity and the focus, they’re going to see what it’s like now to play with that intensity. I think it’s great for our whole organization.”

“For sure, it’s huge,” veteran Canuck Brandon Sutter told Sportsnet. “You don’t really quite realize what the intensity is like and… just how much fun the playoffs are. You’ve got to learn pretty quick how to raise your expectations for how you play out there. It’s just a fun time. For our young guys to get a little taste of that would be awesome.”

But there are other complications for the Canucks. For example, Bo Horvat and his wife Holly are expecting the birth of their first child in July.

“I’ve been thinking about that pretty much every day since there could be a possibility of return to play,” Horvat told Sportsnet. “It’s definitely not easy… but I’m not the only one in this kind of situation. There’s lots of guys around the league that are in different situations, whether it’s having babies or being away from families (or having) people in their families have different problems. Everybody’s got things to worry about.”

While Horvat, who was the youngest member of the Canucks back in 2015 when they played the Flames in a wild first-round tilt, surely wants to be a part of the team’s playoff run, the idea of being locked away in quarantine during the birth of his first child would be terrifying.

One final note, according to Jim Benning, the Canucks are considering having their training camp in the United States rather than in Canada. The team has 12 players across the United States and Europe who would have to do a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada. Having training camp in the United States, where restrictions are looser, would allow the Canucks to get around this.

“It’s a big concern,” Benning told TSN. “We worry about it because that’s 14 days before we’re going to start a gruelling training camp and get into playing playoff-style games. Basically we’re telling our players that they’ve gotta sit around their homes or apartments and they can’t do the type of training that they need.

“I know that government officials are looking at it and we don’t like it, but we understand that we need to do what’s right for everybody involved and for the safety of people … that’s going to trump everything else.”

Were a Hub, Bub

I know this will come off as homer-ism in the extreme to some, but when I look at the 10 cities on the NHL’s shortlist to be hubs when play-ins and playoffs finally get underway, I don’t see a better hub candidate than Edmonton. Tell me I’m wrong.

That’s assuming, of course, there’s a way to deal with the 14-day quarantine period that’s in place. If that doesn’t change, you can strike Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto off the list right now, leaving Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Pittsburgh in the running. That’s the challenge for all three Canadian cities.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who has been a voice of reason throughout this whole COVID-19 pandemic as Alberta’s chief medical officer, addressed that Thursday in the wake of pitches made by Alberta premier Jason Kenney and the Oilers to make Edmonton a hub city for play-ins and what will be a 16-team playoff. She talked about “cohort groups” – having teams and personnel quarantine together — that might address safety issues.

“Safety must be the top priority,” Hinshaw said. “In order to make this happen, all levels of government and the NHL will have to collaborate to find creative solutions. The guidelines we have put in place we feel would adequately address the safety of Albertans as well as being considerate of the opportunity for sporting events, which we know Albertans enjoy, to take place. I want to be clear that we’re not talking about waiving the quarantine requirements.”


NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has used the term “exemptions” to make hubs work in Canada. So has Kenney, talking specifically about Edmonton. Out in B.C., health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the NHL won’t be getting special treatment. “I would love to have hockey,” Henry said. “(But) we’re not bending the rules in any way that would put what we’ve achieved here in B.C. at risk.”

If there isn’t a way to sort the 14-day quarantine out, my guess is Pittsburgh and Las Vegas could end up as the hubs. If there’s a way to satisfy safety concerns without “bending the rules,” as Henry puts it, I think Edmonton sits right at the top for several reasons – all of which have been pitched by the Oilers, city hall and Kenney.

First and foremost, no city on the shortlist has done as good a job as the Edmonton area has in addressing the pandemic. Edmonton’s numbers, whether you’re talking about overall COVID-19 cases, new cases, recoveries or deaths, are unmatched anywhere in the league, not just by the nine other hub city candidates.

Rogers Place and the adjoining community rink have 15 combined dressing rooms. There is space for five TV trucks and broadcast facilities are second to none. Ice District, anchored by the J.W. Marriott near the rink, provides plenty of hotel rooms and amenities. There are dozens of restaurants within blocks. Simply put, Edmonton checks every box. The wrench in the works is the quarantine.


Mar 13, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Rogers Place sits empty as the NHL suspends games because of the COVID-19 outbreak at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Even without fans in Rogers Place to watch games, being a hub would provide an economic bump to businesses that could dearly use it. The same, of course, could be said of every city. It won’t be a windfall, but it’ll help. That’s secondary, of course, to making sure that the whole process is staged safely. Edmonton, more than any other city, is well-positioned to do that.

We still have several weeks to wait before the puck drops again – camps won’t even open until July 10. COVID-19 numbers in shortlisted cities could change substantially. The situation is fluid. There is a window to try to find a solution to the quarantine issue that could keep games out of Canada completely. The way I see it, if we can navigate that bit of business, Edmonton is a clear-cut choice as one of the two hubs.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

NHL History Pat Burns hired as 31st coach in Toronto Maple Leafs history

It was today in 1992 that the Toronto Maple Leafs hired their 31st coach in franchise history: Pat Burns.

He stepped in replaced Tom Watt, who spent two years prior behind the bench.

Burns, however, had much more success behind the bench. In fact, he ended up winning the third-most games in franchise history at the time he finished his tenure. Only Punch Imlach, Hap Day and Dick Irvin had won more.

Over 281 games behind the bench, Burns went 133-107-41 making the playoffs in three of four seasons. In each of his first two years, the Leafs made deep runs in the playoffs. In 1992-93, the Leafs fell in the conference finals to the LA Kings and the next year they fell to the Vancouver Canucks.

In 1995-96, however, the Leafs faltered under Burns and 65 games into the year, he was let go. The firing came amid and eight-game losing streak dropping the Leafs to a 25-30-10 record.

While Toronto ended up making the playoffs but losing in the first round, Burns continued his coaching career two years later.

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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