Chicago is a finalist to be one of NHL’s playoff hub cities: report

The league will choose two of its six finalists: Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto.

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Chicago remains in the running to host one-half of the NHL playoffs this summer.

Colin Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Chicago is one of six finalists in the NHL’s search for its two hub cities for the Stanley Cup playoffs, according to a report Monday.

The cities under consideration are Chicago, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported.

The NHL is expected to pick two of those cities as official hosts — one for each conference’s 12-team postseason field — in the coming weeks.

Commissioner Gary Bettman originally announced 10 cities were in the running, but the report Monday ruled out Columbus, Dallas, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh. Columbus and Minneapolis/St. Paul once were considered among the favorites, so their eliminations came as minor surprises.

Illinois officials have pushed in recent weeks for Chicago to be chosen, citing the economic impact that 12 teams’ worth of players, coaches and staff would bring to suffering downtown hotels and restaurants, as well as the betting surge that would carry over to recently opened sportsbooks and casinos.

‘‘Our state has shown it has the leadership, health-care infrastructure, sports arena capacity and necessary precautions and cooperation to ensure athletes stay safe while bringing back the sports we love and miss so much,’’ Illinois Rep. Mike Zalewski, the top sports-betting legislator in the state, told the Sun-Times last week.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot also has spoken out about the NHL’s hub-city subject, telling The Athletic’s Scott Powers this month that ‘‘everything they would want to put on with a best-in-class playoff experience is here in Chicago.’’

Despite that governmental push, the encouraging report and Illinois’ much-improved coronavirus outlook compared with the rest of the country, however, Chicago still has relatively low odds of being chosen.

LeBrun wrote Chicago is thought of as a ‘‘backup’’ to Las Vegas, which has worsening COVID-19 numbers but long has been considered a near-certain choice. The fact that Chicago’s hotels concentrate around the Loop instead of the United Center is considered a significant drawback, especially in light of the NHL’s goal of keeping its players in as secure a bubble as possible.

The NHL is likely to choose one of the three Canadian cities, as well, after recently negotiating an agreement with Canadian officials that will exempt NHL players and staff from the nation’s ongoing travel ban and strict quarantine rules.

Teams are on track to begin training camps in their own cities July 10, travel to their host cities July 24 and begin qualifying-round series July 30, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported Saturday.

That remains contingent on the NHL and its players’ union reaching an overall agreement for resuming play, though — and on COVID-19 cooperating.

The latter prerequisite took a hit Saturday when Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews and three undisclosed Lightning players tested positive, resulting in the temporary shutdown of workouts in Tampa.

Small workouts remain ongoing at the Blackhawks’ Fifth Third Arena, where American Hockey League prospect Philipp Kurashev on Monday joined a group that already included Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Alex Nylander and Malcolm Subban.

It’s considered likely that if the NHL selects one Eastern Conference and one Western Conference city as its hubs that the conferences would switch sides: The East would play its playoff rounds at the Western Conference site and vice versa, so that no team could benefit from home-ice advantage.

But with five of the six finalists being Western Conference cities, it’s possible the Hawks could play their postseason games at the United Center, albeit with no fans in attendance.

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