The league is finalizing plans for phases 3 and 4 of the return to play protocol, then it will take a few days to be approved by a vote of all NHLPA members, but the NHL and NHLPA have it all set up for The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs have a shot this summer.
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NHL training camps have now been pushed back to a July 13 opening date with qualifying games starting August 1 and a Stanley Cup winner slated for early October in the hub city from Edmonton. Matches will take place in two major cities, Edmonton and Toronto, in the first two rounds before the conference final and the Stanley Cup final will be shipped west to the Alberta Hockey Center.
UPDATE (Monday, July 6 at 6:30 p.m. ET): The NHL and the NHLPA announced Monday an agreement in principle on a number of key issues, including some notable dates for the 2019-2020 season.
NHLPA, NHL Reach Tentative Agreement on Return to Play Plan, CBA Extension; Set dates for resuming the game https://t.co/QKnu4L2jWV pic.twitter.com/6ClJWYhQwH
– NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) July 6, 2020
– End of update –
The level of security guidelines and protocols is absolutely incredible, down to daily tests for hotel employees and bus drivers for players, and there will be strict rules designed to keep bubbles safe while ultimately protecting everyone involved in putting back games.
Meanwhile, the NHL released information on current positive COVID-19 levels with 23 out of 369 players tested positive since they opted for phase 2 voluntary practices.
A total of 35 players tested positive for COVID-19 out of approximately 600 NHL players worldwide, which means that NHL players are positive at a rate of approximately 5.8% with no rules containment set up outside the rink. This is actually encouraging news as the NHL has increased the number of players allowed on the ice from six to 12 in the past two weeks, and there have been no demonstrable or discarded peaks apart from a handful St. Louis Blues players and staff who tested positive last week.
But the Return to Play plan certainly has some interesting features, including:
• Families will not be allowed to be with NHL players until the conference finals and / or the Stanley Cup finals in Edmonton, so NHL players may be separated from their families during as long as five weeks during the qualifying rounds and the first two rounds of the playoffs. .
• Players with underlying health conditions will be examined by doctors and may be prevented from playing if this is deemed to be dangerous for them. It will be interesting for NHL players with type 1 diabetes like Max Domi and Kaapo Kakko.
• Players who must leave the bubble during play – for childbirth or a family emergency, for example – must be confined to isolation for four days and will need four negative test results before they can eventually join their team.
• NHL players have up to three days after ratifying return to play to notify their teams that they refuse to participate in Phase 3 or 4, according to protocols tentatively agreed to by the NHL and the NHLPA. There will be no penalty for this.
• The number of people to be tested daily in the NHL bubble includes: any player / coach / staff member, officials, ice team, security, hotel bartenders, food service staff , food and beverage workers at the arena, hotel cleaning, hotel kitchen staff, and player transportation. This will add up to thousands of tests per day.
• Failure to comply with return-to-play protocols “could result in significant financial penalties, and potentially loss of draft picks” and could make individual players ineligible to play and removed from the safe bubble.
• For NHL purposes, the league is moving away from the term “major cities” and prefers rather the Phase 4 Secure Zone terminology, which gives the impression of coming out of a science fiction film.
All of this is subject to the approval of the simple majority of the more than 700 members of the NHLPA, of course, and it is not a slam dunk. It is likely to happen, but it is suspected that the final vote will be tight. Even if it is conditional, it appears that the NHL did this as well as what might be expected under the circumstances.
The biggest question now is whether the NHL will be able to make it happen.
It will take more than 20,000 tests a day while 24 teams are involved at the start of the post-season game, and the tests will need to be quick and universal during the 2-3 months that NHL teams play. Major League Baseball already has problems with the test results that are saved in the COVID-19 test center they use, and this creates a situation where MLB teams suspend training until they are resolved.
Could the same thing cause an abrupt shutdown of the NHL?
Hopefully not, as the return to play has been considered with as much attention as anything the NHL has ever done, and we are really starting to think that there will be hockey playoff games in August, September and October. There are still hurdles to overcome to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs a safe and viable reality for everyone involved, but we say there is a chance.