Rating the Blue Jackets' NHL Bubble

Chris Gaitten
The Columbus Blue Jackets' Liam Foudy, right, celebrates a goal in Toronto.

Summertime should have been the NHL offseason, but instead it was the dawn of the Bubble Sports Era. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, that meant nearly a month of playing in a fanless arena and living in a quarantined Toronto hotel. So what was it like—a hockey Thunderdome or the world’s most luxurious summer sports camp? 

Welcome swag: ★★★

Jackets captain Nick Foligno worked with Homage to create “Let’s Play Bubble Hockey” T-shirts for the whole team, a timely tribute to the beloved 1980s table game.

Location: 

The team stayed at the Fairmont Royal York, only steps from great restaurants, shops and the lakefront—but all of it just beyond the iron fence at the bubble’s edge, says general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

Room Service: ★★★★

In addition to the usual burgers and salads, the NHL provided concierges to coordinate deliveries of takeout food and retail goods from unreachable establishments nearby.

Commute: ★★★★

Players at the Royal York had a quick stroll to work via a newly formed underground walkway, Kekalainen says. He could go from his hotel room to his arena suite in 10 minutes.

Outdoor Activities: ★★

The York had just one patio, while the other Toronto hotel had an area for baseball, Frisbee, pickleball and soccer. But good luck convincing hockey players that Frisbee is a perk.

Cleanliness: ★★★★★

In more than 30,000 tests through early September, the NHL has yet to record a positive COVID case. The tests lasted about 30 seconds, and lines were minimal. But that didn’t exactly make it a rip-roaring good time either. “Let’s put it this way,” Kekalainen says, “I wouldn’t book a vacation at the bubble.”

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