What to know and expect with the NHL moving toward Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan

The NHL season has remained on pause since March due to the coronavirus but there has been significant movement on a return-to-play plan for the league over the past several days. After the league and players officially agreed on a proposal outlining a league restart last week, the NHL announced Monday that it plans on entering Phase 2 of its plan in early June. 

So, what is Phase 2 and what does it mean moving forward? Let’s answer some questions you may have.

What does Phase 2 entail?

Under the league’s established safety protocols, Phase 2 of the NHL return-to-play plan allows players to return to team facilities for small group workouts. A maximum of six players are allowed to participate in on-ice workouts at one time, though all drills must be non-contact and no coaches or team personnel are allowed on the ice. Players can also use team weight rooms and exercise/rehab spaces. Additional safety measures include a mandate on wearing masks when not actively exercising inside the facilities, plus social distancing of six feet when players aren’t on the ice. 

This phase is optional, so it’s up to individual players if they want to participate in these group workouts. Teams aren’t allowed to require players to return to the club’s home city, and facilities can only reopen in areas where local guidelines allow for it. If a player is isolating in an opposing club’s home city, they can use that team’s facilities if permitted. The league is requiring traveling players to abide by local government mandates, such as Canada’s mandatory 14-day isolation period for people arriving from abroad.

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What about testing?

All players and staff will be tested 48 hours prior to returning to team facilities, and those test results will come back within 24 hours. Nobody will be permitted to enter the team facilities until they have a confirmed negative test. Additionally, the league is recommending that teams continue to test players at least twice weekly throughout Phase 2, if there are enough tests available without depriving local resources.

If there are not enough tests available in an area, teams will require players to isolate for a 14-day period before they’re permitted to enter the facility. All players and staff will also have to perform daily temperature and symptom checks at home before arriving to the facilities.

When will Phase 2 go into effect?

A specific date hasn’t been announced yet but the league hopes to enter the stage in early June.

“It has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last,” the NHL said in the memo. “We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the Club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties.”

What does this mean for the NHL’s return-to-play plans?

While Phase 2 may not seem like the biggest or sexiest news since teams won’t be able to fully return to practice, it’s a significant and necessary step toward a return. Many players haven’t been able to skate since early March when the league went into shutdown, so just being able to get back on the ice and work out is an important development.

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What is Phase 3?

Phase 3 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan is expected to consist of a training camp that precedes the league’s official restart. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said that a three-week training camp period will be necessary before the league returns to action, and players may need to quarantine for a few weeks before those camps get underway. 

As for the timeline, the league was initially targeting a restart in early July but sources have told CBS Sports that mid-to-late July is now being viewed as the most optimistic scenario. If there’s a 3-5 week preparation window and meaningful games are to be played before August, the league would likely need to transition out of Phase 2 and into Phase 3 by mid-to-late June. 

What is the plan if/when play resumes?

Though the NHL still has 189 games remaining on the regular season schedule, it’s expected that the league would jump straight into the postseason in the event that play can resume. Late last week, the NHLPA approved a league proposal for a 24-team playoff to be hosted in two separate hub cities — one for each conference. 

Under that proposal, the top 12 teams from each conference would qualify for the playoffs, with the top four teams from each conference getting a play-in bye (they would participate in a three-game round robin to stay fresh). The remaining eight teams from each conference would play a best-of-five series for the four remaining spots in a traditional 16-team bracket. From there, the NHL hopes to play a best-of-seven series the remainder of the way until a Stanley Cup champion is crowned.

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