NHL Preparing to Move to Phase 2
Things have been moving in a positive direction for the return of team pro sports in North American, which have been on pause since March 12. We’ve heard positive news from the NBA as they continue to look into playing in Orlando at the Wide World of Sports complex. Major League Baseball is expected to have the owners send a proposal to the MLB Players’ Association this week as they try to hammer out a deal and salvage at least some part of a season. Then, there is the NHL, which, given the track record of commissioner Gary Bettman, would have the least amount of optimism from the fan base. After all, there have been multiple work stoppages in his time running the league.
However, after the league and the NHLPA Executive Board hammered out a return to play agreement last week, things have started to move in the right direction. According to reports coming out on Sunday, the league is preparing to move to Phase 2 of their return to play plan. There is no clear cut date for the implementation of Phase 2 at this stage but most reports are pointing toward early June for those workouts, which are deemed voluntary and will be in small groups. There are several important factors in the Phase 2 proposal, which ran 29 pages and covered plenty of relevant information for teams and players. Let’s take a look at some of the key points:
Voluntary Workouts: This one is pretty clear as it’s laid out that teams shouldn’t go out and recalling their players for mandatory activities quite yet. That gives teams a chance to get some of their players back in the mix, similar to like what the NBA has done by reopening team facilities earlier this month. It will give players a chance to ease back into the task of getting their skating legs back after nearly three months off the ice. That’s basically the stint of a regular offseason, so it will take some time to knock the rust off.
Small Groups: This one follows the way that the NBA goes at this stage as well. The guidelines state that no more than six players can be in the arena at any one time. In addition, those workouts are players only, meaning that no coaches or front office personnel can be present. That prevents the opportunity for some teams to get a head start by working out strategy and such with line implementation or whatever else. The league is intent on maintaining parity for the teams as they try working back out of this pause.
Safety: In order to ensure that the league is doing the best they can in order to prevent any sort of outbreak of COVID-19, the league has set forth some guidelines to try and maintain safety and health. The players must be wearing face coverings at any time that they are in the building, other than when they are on the ice. That makes sense as it would be rather tough to try and breathe through masks or face coverings when you’re engaged in physical activity. The rest of the time, the league is erring on the side of caution.
COVID-19 Testing: The league has laid out the plan for testing at this stage regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Players and coaches will be tested two days prior to participating in activities and then twice a week after that going forward. The league also suggests that players administer temperature checks to themselves on a daily basis, regardless of whether they are slated to be tested or not. In addition, the NHL doesn’t plan on testing asymptomatic players or disrupting the supply chain of tests. The league stated that the testing of asymptomatic players "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.''
As it stands, the league’s plan consists of four phases. Phase I was where the league has been since it went on pause in mid-March. Once we get Phase 2 going, then Phase 3 would consist of the start of training camps and Phase 4 would mark the actual return to playing games. We’re moving in the right direction, now it’s merely the matter of continuing that momentum.