NHL releases document detailing Phase 2 protocols for return to play

Chris Johnston joined Hockey Central and spoke about the NHL moving forward with Phase 2 of the return to play plan, discussing what this means for actual games to take place in the future.

The NHL released a document on Monday detailing Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan as the league and its players continue to figure out if, how, and when the NHL can safely return this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phase 2 includes protocols for travelling to club cities, testing, opening practice facilities for small group workouts, and the wearing of personal protective equipment when entering and leaving club facilities.

Per the memorandum, the league is currently targeting early June for the introduction of this second phase, though no firm date has been set.

Monday’s document does not include any dates or guidelines around training camps or the resumption of the 2019-20 campaign.

On Friday, player representatives from all 31 teams voted to continue negotiations over a 24-team return-to-play format — a big step in the league’s effort to bring the game back and ultimately crown a Stanley Cup champion.

The league has been suspended since March 12, and is still in Phase 1 as players remain under league-mandated quarantine. Below are some of the key guidelines released Monday:

Opening practice facilities:
Clubs will be allowed to reopen training facilities in their home cities under Phase 2, though distancing measures will still be in effect — a maximum of six players will be allowed to practise at once, plus “a limited number” of team staff. Individualized training activities will be conducted on a voluntary basis, prioritizing the health and concerns of players and staff.

Per the NHL’s document: “This activity will be permitted only in those jurisdictions where the applicable health authorities have sufficiently relaxed local restrictions to permit such gatherings. Clubs whose local health authorities would allow for the reopening of Club facilities will be required to consult with and seek approval from the League prior to any reopening of Club facilities. In those jurisdictions which continue to restrict or prohibit such activity from occurring, and in order to address potential competitive concerns, the League will work with those Clubs to facilitate alternative arrangements, if desired.”

Travel to club cities:
When the NHL first ordered its players to self-quarantine, many left their team’s cities and returned to off-season homes.

Individuals travelling via public transportation — by commercial flight or rail — must self-quarantine for 14 days in their club city prior to engaging in any training activities at the club facility.

Other players may also be asked to self-quarantine, regardless of their mode of transportation, upon returning — including those returning from a “high-risk” environment, and those landing in areas whose local authorities continue to impose a quarantine period for any travellers.

Not all players maintain a residence in their club cities — most notably AHL players. The league states that teams will provide separate hotel accommodations for the duration of Phase 2 and Phase 3 (training camp) activities in their club cities.

Symptom checks and testing:
All players and personnel permitted to access training facilities will be tested 48 hours prior to entering, followed by regular testing (twice weekly) throughout Phase 2. Results will be made available within 24 hours. No player will be permitted to use club facilities without a negative test.

The league issued these testing guidelines with community demand in mind: “As an over-riding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel 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.”

Players and personnel must also complete symptom and temperature checks in accordance with a standardized self-screening checklist. Daily checks will be self-administered by players and personnel at home prior to departing for club facilities, followed by another check at the entrance of the team’s facility prior to entry (to be administered by a designated Club Facility Hygiene Officer).

Positive tests:
Anyone who develops symptoms must immediately notify his team’s medical staff and self-isolate until a medical evaluation can take place.

A positive test will result in the player being designated “unfit to play” and his condition “shall be treated as a hockey related injury for all purposes under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, unless it is established, based on the facts at issue, that the Player contracted COVID19 or the resulting or related illness outside the course of his employment as a hockey player.”

Care of an infected player will be co-ordinated by the team’s medical staff in consultation with its infectious disease specialist.

Player activity:
Players may participate in player-only, non-contact skating sessions (without coaches), weight training (no spotters required), cardiovascular training, and circuit-based training. Rehabilitation and treatment with medical and training staff is also permitted. Once separated into groups, players will remain in those same groups for all training sessions for the duration of Phase 2. Groups will be scheduled into “shifts” and will not overlap in timing so as to allow for proper cleaning of facilities between each group’s training session.

On-ice time must be divided equally between all skaters in small groups of no more than six players, though goaltenders may be allowed additional ice time. Goalies are permitted to work with an independent goalie coach on a one-on-one basis, beginning seven days after initially being granted access to club facilities.

Fitness testing by clubs will not be permitted during this phase.

Coaches and hockey-operations personnel activity:
No coaches will be permitted to participate in on-ice activities, though staff may observe from a designated area of the facility so as not to come into contact with players or “player-access” personnel.

The league has “strongly recommended” that any club business staff who are able to continue to work remotely do not enter the team facilities during Phase 2.

Social distancing and personal protective equipment:
All players and personnel must maintain the standard six-foot distance from one another at all times, inside and out of club facilities, with exceptions made for medical treatment when necessary. Players are discouraged from socializing outside of facilities – even if they’re in the same training groups.

When social distancing cannot be observed (including during medical treatments), face coverings must be worn. Face coverings are not required during workouts or while skating, but are recommended to be worn when entering and departing the facility.

Those handling gear and cleaning facilities will always wear PPE (surgical masks and gloves), which will be discarded after each use.

Personnel not allowed at team facilities:
The NHL prohibits media members, agents, massage therapists, chiropractors, player-performance personnel, players’ family members, and any other persons not deemed essential by the league from entering club facilities for the duration of Phase 2.

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