The coronavirus pandemic has nixed the Blackhawks Convention more than three months before the scheduled event.
The Hawks canceled the 13th edition of the event — slated for July 24-26 — on Wednesday, citing the uncertain status of the rest of the 2019-20 NHL season and the advice of public-health officials. Full refunds for previously purchased convention passes and hotel rooms will be issued.
The 2019 convention drew thousands of fans to downtown Chicago for autograph sessions, meet-and-greets, new-player introductions, alumni and front-office panels and numerous other types of programming. It spanned from Friday night through Sunday afternoon, just as this edition was supposed to do.
Illinois’ ban on large gatherings — although it doesn’t extend anywhere near late July yet — theoretically would make the convention impossible. And even if the ban were to be lifted by then, many fans might be reluctant to attend, given the close proximity they would have with thousands of others, leading to attendance concerns.
There’s also a chance the NHL season will resume around that point of the summer, although a plethora of obstacles would lie in the way of that.
If the season does resume, the most likely way would seem to be in a single, neutral-site city, ideally one with relatively few coronavirus cases but with infrastructure sufficient enough to house thousands of players, coaches, league officials, TV crews and more. Even still, the games almost certainly would be held in empty arenas.
So far, cities reportedly under consideration are Grand Forks, North Dakota; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Grand Forks is home to the University of North Dakota’s hockey facilities. Manchester’s SNHU Arena is the former home of a Kings minor-league affiliate. Saskatoon’s spacious SaskTel Centre typically hosts the Blades of the Western Hockey League.
But the NHL is far away from making any serious commitments to such sites, and little is known about what the format the end of the season would look like. Unless the regular season was resumed or the playoff field was expanded, the Hawks wouldn’t take part.