NHL still mulling over plan to reopen team practice facilities

American-Airlines-Centre

Crews cover the ice at American Airlines Center in Dallas, home of the Dallas Stars hockey team, after the NHL season was put on hold due to coronavirus, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (Ashley Landis/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

With the NBA making plans to reopen team practice facilities as soon as May 8, the NHL still hasn’t figured out exactly when — or how — it’s going to follow suit.

The league is still determining if it will wait until it’s safe and permissible for all 31 teams to start holding small-group workouts before triggering the next phase of its return-to-play protocol, or if it will allow clubs to reopen practice facilities in waves, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday.

That will be an important factor in establishing the point where NHL players can get back on the ice in anticipation of training camps.

The NBA issued new guidelines Monday about what the “safe and controlled” environment will look like for voluntary workouts at team facilities. It said buildings in regions where government restrictions are no longer in place may open as soon as May 8 for up to four players at a time.

In the event a team is restricted from opening its facility, the NBA vowed to help identify an alternative.

Multiple NHL teams currently have May 15 circled as the potential start of small-group skates at their facilities, according to sources, although government restrictions may not permit it to happen that soon in every jurisdiction.

That’s why the timing ultimately hinges on how the league decides to approach the next phase — namely, if some teams will be allowed to open before everyone is in a position to open.

The vast majority of NHL players haven’t skated since the season was paused March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that could soon change with the league determined to find a way to complete what it started.

In recent days, multiple return-to-play timelines have started circulating among team executives and player agents that feature many general consistencies about how the next few months could play out:


May 15-31: Informal, small-group skates

June 1-30: Training camps and exhibition play

July 1-Sept. 30: Completion of remaining 189 regular-season games in centralized locations, followed by Stanley Cup playoffs

Off-season (free agency, arbitration, etc.)

Mid-November: Training camps open for 2020-21 season

Mid- to late-December: Regular season begins

This should be viewed as more of a general roadmap than a specific set of instructions with commissioner Gary Bettman already on record about the NHL’s willingness to adjust on the fly depending on the information it receives from leading health experts and governments.

“With a lot of timing options, we have a great deal of flexibility,” Bettman told Ron MacLean last week. “And we’re not going to rush anything. We’re not going to do anything that’s crazy. We’re going to try and do something under the circumstances at the time that is sensible.”

While the NHL’s preference is to complete the regular season in full, for example, there is a scenario where it might consider jumping straight into an expanded playoffs, if the timeline listed above turns out to be too optimistic to execute.

Once the league officially signals that it’s ready to progress to small-group workouts with an eye on opening training camps, dozens of players will have to return from Sweden, Finland, Russia and other European nations to observe a 14-day period of self-isolation before participating in activities over here.

They haven’t started rushing back to North America yet.

In fact, a couple European players just made the trip the other way to their home country in the last few days because they don’t expect to get the opportunity to spend time with family and friends there this summer.

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