Though the Kings’ season has officially ended after the league’s announcement that they will proceed directly into the postseason as soon as late July, there may still be NHL hockey in Los Angeles this summer. The league’s Return to Play plan focuses in on having two “hub” cities for the postseason, including a round-robin seeding round and best-of-five qualifying round for sixteen bubble teams. Both hub cities will host the top 12 teams in the conference, presumably through the Conference Final.
Rumors indicate that the NHL would prefer to have at least one Canadian city, though stricter quarantining procedures and social distancing requirements may present a difficulty at an operations level. The announcement on Tuesday mentioned US cities Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh as potential hosts, as well as Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton across the border.
Vegas is widely believed to be a frontrunner for host duties in the US, but last week California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state could be hosting sports — without fans, which is likely a requirement the NHL will have to follow no matter where they land — as soon as June, which if anyone is paying attention, is next week. If those preparations begin soon, the Kings feel confident that Staples Center can still be a home for hockey.
“We are honored to be included in consideration as an NHL hub city,” Kings Chief Operating Officer Kelly Cheeseman said in a release. “We know L.A. LIVE and STAPLES Center will be well prepared given our collective history of hosting showcase events, so we look forward to the outcome.”
California has had 90,631 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 43,052 of those cases in Los Angeles County, who have also seen 2,042 deaths from the virus so far. The county makes up nearly half of the cases and deaths in the state due to coronavirus.
In that same release, Kings President Luc Robitaille spoke about the end of their season. The Kings finished 14th in the Western Conference with a 29-35-6 record and .457 points percentage. This marks the second season in a row that the Kings will miss playoffs. They have not qualified in four of the last six seasons, losing in the first round the two seasons in which they did qualify.
“It’s unfortunate that our season has concluded but we fully understand this was necessary and support the decision,” said Robitaille. “At the time of the pause, we had made considerable progress in the second half and were seeing positive results and encouraging signs for the future. We’ll now turn our attention to the NHL Draft and player development so that we can continue building our organization for long term success. We thank our fans for their unwavering support and already look forward to the 2020-21 season.”
The first phase of the NHL Draft Lottery will be held on Friday, June 26. The Kings will have the fourth-best probability (9.5%) of winning the first overall selection.