NHL players will be returning to the ice very soon. The league announced on June 25 that Phase Three of its return to play plan will begin on July 10. Phase Three includes training camp for each of the 24 teams participating in the playoff tournament.
In Phase Three, players and staff will be frequently tested in order for teams to train in larger groups. At the moment, players are able to work out and skate, but not as a whole team. Since players have arrived at training camps, at least 26 players tested positive for COVID-19. The Tampa Bay Lightning shut down its facilities due to players and staff testing positive for the coronavirus.
NHL Return to Play Plan Moves on
The NHL and NHLPA have come to a decision on most issues relating to Phase Three and Four, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported on Wednesday. However, the league and the players’ union have not ratified a deal, so these agreements are still tentative.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 11, 2020
The length of Phase Three and training camp is still undetermined according to the league. Phase Four of the return to play plan includes the Stanley Cup playoff tournament. Postseason play will take place in the newly announced hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton. This decision comes as Canada lifted its mandatory 14-day quarantine for players coming into the country. In addition, case numbers in Canada remain low in comparison to the United States; the formerly-rumored hub city of Las Vegas continues to see cases increasing as Clark Country experiences a minor spike.
What is Known About Phase Four
While Phase Four’s start date has not been established yet, Edmonton has been set as the location for the Western Conference teams to compete. Toronto will host the Eastern Conference teams in addition to both the qualifying round, the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference Final, and the Stanley Cup Final.
The league is aiming to begin postseason play in late July, as it has claimed that it wants two or three weeks from training camp. With the NHL’s partnerships with Sportsnet in Canada and NBC in the United States, beginning competition in two weeks would allow the NHL to broadcast matches during what was originally supposed to be NBC’s Olympic slots. With people stuck in their homes due to the pandemic, sports networks have broadcasted everything from HORSE tournaments to seven hours worth of Scripps National Spelling Bee footage. A transition back to live sports, especially during a window previously dedicated to athletic excellence, would be foolish for the NHL to not consider.
However, all decisions must also be approved by the NHLPA, meaning that if players do not feel as if it is safe to play yet, the league will be unable to begin the tournament. When the modified Stanley Cup playoffs do begin, the NHL will test players on a daily basis. According to the NHL, it will need anywhere between 25,000 and 35,000 tests for the span of its postseason competition.