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As the industry slowly regains its footing under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, what does the process of getting “back to normal” look like?

Following the release of the “Phase 2” memorandum from the NHL on May 24th, pro hockey takes one more step towards reopening game play.

An agreement to return to the ice was reached between the National Hockey League and its players’ union as restrictions begin to ease.

Reopening First Steps

Team facilities will reopen and begin training in early June at a predetermined date. The current player structure allows for six players allowed in a facility at any one time. According to the league, they will be wearing masks when not on the ice.

“We are now targeting a date in early June for a transition to Phase 2. However, it has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last,” the NHL stated.

The on-ice training will be for players only. “No coaches, skating coaches, other Club employees or Club contracted representatives may participate in any on-ice sessions,” the league said.

Prior to utilizing the team facilities, everyone including players and team personnel will undergo laboratory-based RT-PCR testing.

Testing and Controls

Additionally, anyone returning to the team’s home city by “public transportation, including commercial air or rail travel, must serve a 14-day self-quarantine period post-travel before engaging in training activities,” the league said.

Under the Phase 2 guidelines, the team’s medical personnel are obliged to impose a 14-day quarantine on any personnel returning from “a high-risk environment.”

Stanley Cup playoffs?

The NHL players’ association accepted the league’s proposal for a 24-team Stanley Cup playoff format through a vote that concluded the evening of May 22nd.

According to TVA Sports it passed overwhelmingly with a 29-2 decision,  but the NHLPA issued a statement which included “several details remain to be negotiated.”

Calculated using every team’s record at the time of the pause, the stopgap tournament would feature 12 teams in each conference, with seeds based on points percentage.

The top four seeds in each conference would advance automatically to the traditional round of 16, but seed Nos. 5 through 12 would have to play their way in.

Multiple reports have surfaced indicating the league is zeroing in on having two centralized hub cities; one per conference with several additional NHL cities making bids to host.

For the moment, the plans are tentative and no formal decisions have been made because of uncertainty across North America due to the pandemic.

Training in New York Allowed by Governor Cuomo

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the go-ahead on May 24th for teams to begin training camps in his state.

Major professional leagues including the NHL and NBA saw their seasons completely stalled in mid-March, including Major League Baseball that saw the season put on hold after the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation.

In hopes of getting their seasons underway, though without fans, Cuomo said New York teams should be able to at the very least start practices.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena, do it. Do it,” Cuomo said Sunday at his briefing at Jones Beach on Long Island.

Considering the very successful nature of how Cuomo has handled the COVID-19 situation in the nation’s most affected state, his decision to restart the games in such a manner is probably very prudent.

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