Coronavirus: NHL releases framework for players to return to club facilities

Omnisport

The NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) have established a framework for the second phase of a return plan that includes teams reopening their practice facilities and beginning small group workouts in June.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL has been suspended since March.

Though it has not yet been determined exactly when Phase 2 - the transition period following self-quarantine - will start, or how long it could last, the new protocols include a maximum of six players taking part in on-ice workouts at one time.

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While there will be no coaches or team personnel on the ice, players will not be required to wear face masks while exercising or on the ice, but they must do so when entering and leaving the facility, or at times when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Player participation in the phase is voluntary, and teams are not permitted to require players to return to their club's home city so they can complete a quarantine requirement in time to participate in Phase 2.

Testing of asymptomatic players and club personnel will 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.

On Friday, the NHLPA said it had authorised further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format.

In that proposal, the top four seeds in each conference - determined by their standings points percentage when the regular season was paused on March 12 - would automatically advance into the traditional 16-team structure.

The remaining 16 teams would have to compete in a best-of-five play-in round to complete the playoff bracket, with the location of the games has yet to be determined - the most likely plan seems to be playing in two "hub" cities, one for each conference.

Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week that the league had narrowed its list of potential venues to eight or nine sites. Several cities submitted proposals to the NHL to become a hub and they include Las Vegas, Toronto, Minnesota, Edmonton and Vancouver.

"I don't think anybody has a fixed timetable, particularly in North America right now," Bettman said during a keynote interview for the Leaders Week sports business conference.

"We have been working very hard since we took the pause on March 12 to make sure that whatever the timing is, whatever the sequencing is, whatever physical ability we have in terms of locations to play, that we're in a position to execute any or all of those options. There is still a great deal of uncertainty."

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