NHL Takes Steps Toward Phase 2 of Return

By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor 

While the rest of us were enjoying the holiday weekend, the NHL was hard at work taking the next steps to a return to play and there is now a concrete step that would allow players to begin training again.

The NHL released a memo on Monday that detailed the steps of Phase 2 in a return to play. The 29-page memo states targeting an early-June date for a move to Phase 2. In Phase 2, teams will be allowed to open practice facilities and permit a maximum of six players at one time to engage in individual training. For NHL players specifically, this would include ice time. All ice time would feature players only with no coaches or other personnel allowed on the ice.

“Based on the current information available, we are now targeting a date in early June for a transition to Phase 2,” the memo stated. “However, it has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last. We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the Club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties.”

The memo also stated that participation in Phase 2 is strictly voluntary for players. NHL teams are not to require that players return home to allow for the quarantine period prior to the start of Phase 2. 

During Phase 2, typical social distancing practices will be taken, including wearing face coverings when entering the facility, leaving the facility and inside where social distancing cannot be maintained. Face coverings are not required during exercise or while on the ice. 

There were several other issues that were also addressed. For player travel, clubs should facilitate arrangements to enable players who are not in the home city to return. Last week, it was announced that the US-Canada border would remain closed for another month to non-essential travel, but an exception was made for professional athletes, so teams would be able to have all players return in due time at their own preference at this time. 

Another issue was testing. The memo states “as an over-riding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel 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.” Teams will consult with local health officials to determine and make arrangements for testing — at least twice weekly and consistent with medically recommended intervals, the memo states — and the league is exploring the possibility if league-wide testing can become available. If testing is not available, players must self-quarantine for 14 days in the home city or certify that they already have before entering the facility. Symptoms and temperature will be checked daily for all players and club personnel. 

The list of permitted activities during Phase 2 include non-contact skating session, weight training without the need for a spotter, circuit based activities such as resistance training, cardio exercises and endurance training and rehab and treatment for players with on-going injuries. Ice time is to be divided equally among groups of players, though goaltenders can be provided with additional ice time. Coaches and hockey operations personnel will not be allowed on the ice, but will be permitted to observe the skating sessions.

The memo also provided notes on disinfecting and cleaning procedures as well as the social distancing protocol to be followed, specified by personnel.

Another interesting note in the memo was regarding players who were not able to return to their team’s facilities or if a team’s facilities are unable to open. Players would be permitted to train in other teams’ facilities.

This was especially interesting in the Flyers case on Monday when the memo was released. While it was known the players would be granted an exception to return from Canada or other countries, the state of New Jersey and Pennsylvania had not announced that professional athletes could return and train. On Tuesday morning, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy did announce that athletes could return to activity and train, opening the door for the Flyers to make use of their Voorhees practice facility when Phase 2 begins.

There are still a lot of details to be worked out by the NHL and NHLPA, and with no firm dates, there is no timeline on how close a return to play really is. But these latest developments at least are showing signs that the light is at the end of the tunnel and hockey could be returning soon enough.

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