After nearly three months without hockey, the NHL has finally moved one step closer to getting back on the ice.
The league announced Thursday night that Phase 2 of its planned return will begin Monday, June 8. The announcement follows the release of a 22-page document in May that provided a detailed set of guidelines that must be adhered to for teams to reopen their facilities.
“The NHL has worked closely with the NHLPA and the Players on the Resumption of Play Committee in establishing the framework for this phased approach,” it read, “and has also developed this approach with the input of NHL medical, epidemiology and infectious disease experts as well as Club medical personnel.”
Here’s everything we know so far about Phase 2 of the NHL’s return.
When will NHL players be allowed to return to the ice?
On Thursday night, the NHL announced it will begin Phase 2 on June 8, allowing team facilities to reopen in a limited fashion beginning Monday.
However, not every player will be allowed back on the ice at once. The guidelines only allow for small gatherings of up to six players, along with a limited number of club staff, to engage in voluntary, individual training activities.
What hockey activities will be allowed on the ice?
Players will be allowed to participate in non-contact skating drills with all coaches and other staff having to remain off the ice. Coaches and members of hockey operations will be able to watch these sessions once a training camp is announced or after two weeks of Phase 2, whichever comes later. They cannot have in-person interactions with the players.
The amount of time given to each player for skating practice will be divided equally within each small group of six. When they’re not on the ice, players will be allowed to use the exercise and weight rooms to perform weight training (that doesn’t require the use of a spotter), cardio, endurance training and rehab for players who are dealing with injuries.
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All team members will be required to practice social distancing by maintaining a six-foot distance between themselves and others, the only exception being medical staff helping players rehab injuries.
Inside the building, players will also have to wear masks whenever they’re not actively exercising, while other staff members must wear masks at all times. Trainers and physiotherapists must also wear gloves when interacting with players.
All facilities will be thoroughly cleaned at the start of each day, the end of each day and in between training sessions.
How will players travel back to their team’s city?
The NHL is facing one of its biggest headaches trying to get all its players back to their respective team cities.
Because the league allowed all players to return home when the season was paused, a number of players will now have to travel from overseas and cross international borders.
Chad Wolf, acting secretary for USA homeland security, issues exemption for some professional athletes and their staff and dependents to enter the country. This includes ATP & WTA players. Helps re-open the door to staging tournaments later this year, including perhaps US Open pic.twitter.com/Svi4nW9HSI
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 23, 2020
Certain countries, such as Canada, are requiring a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for anyone who has arrived from abroad. The league will require players to abide by these rules, and also stated that “even if not imposed by the local health authorities, such individuals returning to the Club’s home city by public transportation, including commercial air or rail travel, must serve a 14-day self-quarantine period post-travel before engaging in training activities at their Club’s facility.”
For the time being, no player will be required to travel back to their team’s city in order to take part in training activities.
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Will NHL players be tested for COVID-19?
According to the guidelines, all players and team staff will be tested 48 hours prior to returning to the team facilities, with results coming back within 24 hours. No team member will be allowed back until they have received a confirmed negative test. If possible, the league recommended that teams continue to test their players at least twice weekly.
The memo did note that all testing “must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic individuals from necessary diagnostic tests.” It also acknowledged that widespread testing on that scale may not be available for every team. In that case, all players will have to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine, regardless of whether they’re showing symptoms, before returning to practice.
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All players and staff will also be required to perform daily temperature and symptom checks at their homes before they depart for the team facility and also as soon as they arrive. Anyone with a temperature over 99.5º F (37.5° C) will not be given access to the facility.
The NHL’s announcement Thursday night came just hours after the Pittsburgh Penguins announced on Twitter that an unnamed player had tested positive for COVID-19.
It is the ninth confirmed positive test among NHL players, with five Ottawa Senators and three Colorado Avalanche players receiving positive test results within the past few months. The Pittsburgh player is reportedly “recovered and feeling well”.
What happens if a team doesn’t follow the rules?
The memo makes it clear that this is a strictly voluntary opportunity for the players.
Therefore, it indicates that any teams failing to comply with the guidelines will be subject to severe punishment, including fines or the loss of draft picks.
How long will NHL Phase 2 last?
It’s unclear for now, but it’s safe to assume it will be until at least the end of June.
The next step, Phase 3, is expected to consist of training camp, and a vast number of players are going to be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to practice in any capacity during Phase 2.
With the postseason expected to stretch into July, August and probably even September — if it can be completed at all — it will almost certainly be more than a month before the league seriously considers hitting the ice for a return to competitive hockey.