The NHL has made a significant change to its policy governing the COVID-19 pandemic and is allowing its players to return to their off-season homes, Sportsnet has learned.
That came as part of a new set of directives issued Monday morning.
The league informed players that they can return home to any country and must stay in self-quarantine until March 27 once they get there. That’s part of a new return-to-play protocol that would see training camps potentially reopen in late April for a playoffs that could run through late July.
In the meantime, the NHL said it will give consideration to reopening team facilities after the self-quarantine period ends for players to start working out in coordinated small groups. That plan hinges on “world developments between now and then,” according to the memo.
It’s believed a number of players started leaving their home NHL cities Sunday night, according to sources, in anticipation of Monday’s new directive.
The league decided to change course following a recommendation from the Center for Disease Control that no gatherings of more than 50 people be held for eight weeks. That pushed back the original timeline on when the NHL hoped to resume its paused season.
On Friday night, the league asked players to remain close to where they play and self-quarantine. That was part of a three-step plan where it hoped to next open team facilities to small groups for workouts and skates.
A separate memo to players over the weekend reiterated that it was important for them to remain where they are, or return to where they play if they had chosen to leave.
“Two reasons, really,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said via email on Sunday afternoon. “For their own protection in avoiding potential at a very high-risk time. And to give us an opportunity to assess the overall health of the NHL community.
“(It) will allow us to plan reasonable next steps.”
Allowing them to now disperse is an acknowledgement that it’s going to be a significant challenge to award the Stanley Cup this season.
In Monday’s memo, the NHL said it hopes to open training camps in 45 days — which takes us to April 30. The CDC’s recommendation for gatherings of less than 50 people will keep games from being played until at least May 10.
There’s little room for error now.