The year is 1991, and notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar is on the run. At his wits’ end and out of options, he makes a deal with Colombian authorities to turn himself in. There is one condition, though. He gets to build the jail himself.
Dubbed La Catedral, Escobar’s palatial prison came complete with a soccer pitch, sauna, multiple bars. It had an industrial kitchen that served everything from stuffed turkey to caviar.
So how does Escobar’s ingenious incarceration connect to the resumption of the NHL playoffs, starting tonight? Obviously, no one is equating pro hockey players with Colombian drug lords. However, to ensure player safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has built two La Catedral-esque setups of his own. One is in Edmonton, the other in Toronto.
But Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand did make those comments in a press conference (YouTube above), about how he feels like he’s in jail. Really Brad? He was chuckling as he was saying it. Bettman’s bubbles have both the safety of the public and players in mind.
The bubbles are built not just to keep the public out, but also to keep the players in. Yes, being away from family is tough. The two NHL bubbles boast a host of amenities to make the players’ time away from home as comfortable as possible. Let’s run down a list of what luxuries will be afforded to the NHL’s remaining 16 bubble teams.
NHL playoff “bubble” cities: The hotels
In Toronto, the NHL’s Eastern Conference teams are split between two hotels that couldn’t be further apart in age. But they offer similar luxury lifestyle experiences.
When it first opened its doors in 1929, the Fairmont Royal York hotel (top image) in downtown Toronto held the distinction of being the tallest building in the British Empire. Although it is now dwarfed by the many condominiums and office towers that surround it, the Royal York remains a marquee hotel in Toronto for high-class visitors.
Guerlain Spa meets the NHL
Hotel X is trying to change that. Completed in 2018, the latest addition to Exhibition Place comes complete with indoor tennis courts and a rooftop pool. It has a built-in Guerlain Spa location that represents the French luxury brand’s first entrance into the Canadian market.
As one might expect, both hotels are exclusively occupied by the NHL over the span of the truncated season, and now the NHL playoffs. Both the Royal York’s patio deck and Hotel X’s events plaza are open for the players to get out for the fresh air.
In Edmonton, players are located in four hotels, all within walking distance of Rogers Place. There is a central events plaza for team outings. The four hotels hosting players are the JW Marriott, Delta, Sutton Place and The Matrix.
NHL playoff “bubble” cities: The food
Anybody who’s stayed at your average hotel knows the standard continental breakfast fare can get a little gruesome. Hockey’s best won’t be dealing with anything close to hours-old boiled eggs anytime soon.
In Toronto, there are 14 “on-site diverse restaurants, bars, pubs, and coffee shops” that will surely be stocked with everything the pros need to keep going.
The Carolina Hurricane’s Nino Niederreiter gave fans a glimpse of the breakfast offerings. Not a lot of $3 fast food breakfast sandwiches here. Bountiful platters of fruit and meat, along with an omelette station, await the NHL’s stars.
A lot of the food provided for those staying at Hotel X will be from @TheFoodDudesTO and Honeycomb Hospitality. For those familiar with Toronto that could included restaurants like Baro, Dasha and many other top Toronto spots. https://t.co/8zjnpLgBv4
— Shawn McKenzie (@ShawnMcKenzieSN) July 23, 2020
In Edmonton, event planners are working with Mikado Sushi to open a sushi bar within the bubble. “Each day we’re going to add restaurants, add food trucks, keep variety going, change menus,” says Steve Mayer, the NHL’s eyes and ears inside the Edmonton bubble. “One of the things we’re going to do in the bubble is give the players and staff as much variety as we can.”
NHL playoff “bubble” cities: The drip
With the bubble being located in their home city, it was only right that the Toronto Maple Leafs arrived in style. (We’re pretty confident they exited in style as well, after another first-round playoff loss, this one to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Once again, 53 years without a Cup and counting, Leafs fans sit by as the NHL playoffs roll onward.)
Posted on the Leafs’ official Instagram account were shots of the team’s superstars arriving at the bubble location in club-issued gear. However, these are millennial multi-millionaires, so some splashes of their own style were coming through. Players were flexing everything from Louis Vuitton luggage to Illbury + Goose hats.
Vegas’ Mark Stone also got in on the Louis Vuitton trend, sporting a belt produced by the famous fashion house on his way into the bubble.
One of the more purposeful fashion trends at the NHL bubble so far is the Montreal Canadiens’ choices in football jerseys. Paul Byron was seen wearing an Odell Beckham Jr. Cleveland Browns jersey. Brendan Gallagher arrived rocking a Vontaze Burfict Cincinnati Bengals jersey. Both the Browns and Bengals are chief rivals of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who share a city with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Montreal’s first round opponent. In the end, the Habs dispatched the Pens in four games.
It is yet to be seen if Byron and Gallagher will be ordering Dallas Cowboys or New York Giants jerseys into the bubble to spite their next opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers.
NHL “bubble” cities: The amenities
Outside of the amenities already built into the hotels, there is no stone left unturned in trying to give their players the optimal experience as the NHL playoffs start. In Toronto, those staying at Hotel X have access to BMO Field, home of Toronto FC and the Toronto Argonauts. There, they have free reign to play Spikeball or throw the football around. Some of the Hurricanes were doing on their first day in the city.
Also included in Toronto’s bubble are golf suites and movie theatres for the players to kick back and relax in. Meanwhile in Edmonton, their setup includes an astounding 13 “dedicated fitness centres, weight facilities and practice ice rinks,” according to this graphic made available by CTV. Players seem to be making good use of the ping-pong tables provided in the hotel lounges. Shown here is this competitive exchange posted by the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
Some teams are going the extra mile to ensure maximum comfort for their players. For example, the Nashville Predators, in Edmonton prior to their elimination at the hands of the Arizona Coyotes, were one of those. They surprised their players and travelling staff with pictures of their family members in their rooms upon arrival.
And through all of this, NHL teams’ social media accounts are having a field day. To make light of the lack of fans in the stands, the Blues posted, well, some fans in the stands.
For the teams fortunate enough to go deep in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s going to be a long rest of the summer. After all, these are extravagant “bubbles” the NHL has worked so tirelessly to establish. So take solace in knowing that hockey’s best won’t be living in squalor.