This past week has been kind to hockey fans, as it seems the NHL is making progress towards resuming their season. Ever since the season was paused back in March, the league has made it clear it has intentions of coming back. Specifically to award the Stanley Cup for the 2019-2020 season. The remaining of the season may go down in the record books with an asterisk, but at least there may be a happy ending.
It is expected that the NHL will set up teams in various “hub-cities”. This to cut down travel. As a result, teams will not be playing in front of fans in their home arena. The most logical and likely candidate is Las Vegas. This because Vegas is already has an NHL arena and training facilities. As well as more hotel rooms than anywhere else in the United States. In all likelihood the entire NHL can fit into Las Vegas. Instead, the league seems to be leaning towards more than one, perhaps multiple. One unlikely candidate that deserves a look is Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Atlantic City is my type of place. I’ve made a second home out of the five-dollar blackjack table at Borgata. The people who drive down the Garden State Parkway for a little R & R (not “rest and relaxation”, but in this case “roulette and more roulette”) are my type of people. Stay away from the buffets though. I am a classy gentleman so I go to Bobby Flay’s restaurant. Of course, that is after I beg the pit boss for mercy in the form of a comped steak dinner.
Hockey History In Atlantic City
Even if Atlantic City may be more known for penny slots, beaches, and free drinks at the roulette tables, it would also be a perfect candidate for hockey. Interestingly enough, Atlantic City holds a special place in hockey history. The first African-American player to sign a professional NHL contract was Art Dorrington. He played for the Atlantic City Seagulls, then a minor league team for the New York Rangers. Dorrington never made it to the big show, but in his defense the sweet saltwater taffy air of Atlantic City probably beats the rotting-garbage smell from Madison Square Garden.
In the modern era, Atlantic City has had some minor league hockey presence. The New Jersey Devils, then minor league team, the Albany Devils would play a few games a season at Boardwalk Hall. From 2001-2005, the city had the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the ECHL, who won the Kelly Cup in 2003. In 2012, the arena hosted both the AHL All-Star Game and Operation Hat Trick. Operation Hat Trick was a benefit hockey game that took place for Hurricane Sandy relief while the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout was ongoing. Then Devils’ Martin Brodeur and Andy Greene participated.
Let’s Talk about Logistics
Las Vegas has an NHL stadium in the T-Mobile Arena and the Golden Knights training facilities. Atlantic City’s facilities might not be as shiny and new, but they have adequate resources as well. Boardwalk Hall has long been home to ice hockey, and can quickly be converted back to an NHL style rink. The city also has a Philadelphia Flyers branded “skate zone” a few miles away from the Boardwalk as well.
Although Atlantic City lacks the number of hotel rooms available compared to Las Vegas, there are still nine major casino hotels. Additionally, there are several other reputable non-casino hotels. Anyone who’s made the long drive down to A.C. knows there are a few rather unfavorable motels just outside city limits. You know, the type of motel that looks like an unlicensed plastic surgeon in working out of the third floor. Don’t worry, the NHL will stay away from those.
As for transportation, Atlantic City is just a few hour drive away from almost all of the Metropolitan Division, except for the Carolina Hurricanes. Atlantic City International Airport is a few miles away, though technically not in Atlantic City. While it’s a rather small airport compared to the type NHL players are used to flying into, it’s still a commercial airport that would be capable of handling team arrivals if plane travel was needed.
As with any NHL game or event, medical professionals will need to be on standby. Although I can heal most of the wounds Atlantic City gives me with a complimentary Coors Light and a 3:00 AM rally at the craps table, NHL players need top-line medical attention. Well, the city is served by the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, filling that requirement.
Here is the most interesting piece of the puzzle. When the NBA was searching for possible sites a few months back, Atlantic City’s mayor admitted he was trying to convince the NBA to consider Atlantic City. If the city would roll out the red carpet one sports league, it’d most likely do it for another as well.
Atlantic City, as a community, shares a lot of the same concerns as Las Vegas. These include the concerns that kept professional sports out for that city for so long. Atlantic City is a more gambling focused city than Las Vegas, which diversified its entertainment offerings compared to its cousin on the East Coast. Any problems would lie in the casinos.
Luckily, for hockey, the NHL has largely avoided any gambling-related problems involving the Golden Knights operations. Unfortunately, there have been a few exceptions. On the gambling side, there was Evander Kane’s gambling dispute with a Vegas casino. This happened when his San Jose Sharks were playing the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL playoffs. And then there was the time Evgeny Kusnetsov went skiing, and not the type Lindsey Vonn is used too.
If the NHL could do damage control in Vegas, they can do it in Jersey. Of course, any outstanding details can be worked through. Atlantic City may not be a sure bet, but it’s worth Gary Bettman taking a look at.