First it was Major League Soccer, and now, it’s the National Hockey League.
The NHL announced its “Phase 2” framework on Monday, allowing players to return to their club training facilities for voluntary small-group individualized workouts. This comes on the heels of the NHL Players Association approving a 24-team playoff format when the league resumes playing two days earlier.
Phase 2 marks the first time players have been allowed to return to team facilities since the NHL and NBA on March 12 both postponed their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a memo sent from the league to its teams, early June was mentioned as the targeted date for Phase 2 to begin.
“As we have stated repeatedly, the health of the players and club personnel is our top priority, and that will dictate how Phase 2, and any progression, thereafter, may evolve,” the NHL said. “We again emphasize that player participation in Phase 2 is strictly voluntary. In addition, clubs are not permitted to require players to return to the club’s home city so they can complete a quarantine requirement in time to participate in Phase 2.”
Under the Phase 2 protocols, a maximum of six players are permitted to enter team facilities at one time. On-ice training will be player only as no coaches or team personnel are allowed on the ice with the players. All players must also wear personal protective equipment (masks) when not participating in on-ice training.
All players and staff will be tested for COVID-19 two days prior to entering any team facilities and be tested twice a week during the Phase 2 training. Players are also expected to take their temperature daily.
During Phase 2, no media, player agents, massage therapists, chiropractors or family members are allowed to enter any team facilities.
Per the league memo, any player who lives in an NHL market but who doesn’t play for that team will be allowed access to that team’s facility. Currently, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Calle Jarnkrok, Juuse Saros, Pekka Rinne, Dante Fabbro and Colin Blackwell have returned to their home countries outside of the U.S.
On Friday, the NHLPA approved a 24-team playoff format, which would give byes to the top four teams in each conference based on points, although they would each play one another for game simulation, while the remaining 20 teams would play in a best-of-five play-in series.
Under the proposed format, the Nashville Predators would face the Arizona Coyotes in their play-in series. The Predators are 1-1 against the Coyotes this season and 7-5-2 in the last five seasons against them. A win in the opening series would set the Predators up with a second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights.
There is still plenty of details the NHL has to hammer out before teams actually return to the ice including dates of a potential training camp and specifics on “hub cities,” including hotel accommodations for all players, coaches and families for several teams.
"Whatever the League and the Players' Association come up with — obviously I'm involved in that from a PA standpoint — we're working hard together to come up with the best-case scenario,” Predators forward Austin Watson said. “It is fluid, but I believe we're going to come up with that here at some point. We'll see hockey back on the ice, and that'll be a great day when that happens."