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NHL targeting early June for team practice facilities to reopen

A view of the Islanders' empty locker room

A view of the Islanders' empty locker room at Northwell Health Ice Center after the Islanders wrapped up the end of their season on May 6, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The NHL is targeting early June for its teams to reopen their practice facilities for small-group workouts as the league continues to move toward a restart after halting its season on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the league and the NHL Players’ Association released the memo sent to its 31 teams late Sunday detailing the protocols.

A maximum of six players will be allowed at one time — strictly on a voluntary basis — at an NHL practice facility and the coaches will not be able to work with the players yet. The players do not have to report to their team’s home city and may be able to work out at an opposing team’s building.

“Based on the current information available, we are now targeting a date in early June for a transition to Phase 2,” the NHL said in its memo. “However, it has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last. 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.”

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Sunday that he was immediately allowing professional sports teams to resume training in the state. Still, NHL teams cannot reopen their training facilities without the NHL/NHLPA go-ahead.

NHL players and personnel have been under self-quarantine guidelines since the season was halted. Phase 2 covers the return to small-group workouts. Phase 3 will be organized training camps. Phase 4 is the resumption of play.

The NHL and the NHLPA have agreed — with the final details still to be worked out and no formal announcement yet — on a return-to-play model that includes 24 teams separated by conferences in two hub cities. The Islanders, seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, and the 11th-seeded Rangers are included in the return-to-play model. The state’s third team, the Buffalo Sabres, would not be included.

Under the plan, the conference’s top four seeds are expected to play a three-game round robin to finalize the standings while the other teams square off in best-of-five play-in series.

Among the health protocols detailed in the memo, the players are required to wear face masks when they are not exercising or on the ice. Players are not allowed to carpool to the facility or take public transportation, taxis or rideshares.

The players will be assigned workout shifts to ensure the best social distancing practices at the facility.

Also, the players and team staff will be administered a COVID-19 nasal swab test two days before starting Phase 2 workouts. They subsequently will be tested at least twice per week after that and must give themselves a temperature and symptom check each day.

The NHL/NHLPA memo notes that “relaxation of travel and shelter in place requirements may differ between countries and regions” and that the teams should “facilitate Player travel arrangements, to the extent permitted.”

Further, “some individuals . . . traveling back to their Club’s home city may be required to serve a 14-day self-quarantine imposed by local health authorities, regardless of their mode of travel. Even if not imposed by the local health authorities, such individuals returning to the Club’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 at their Club’s facility. In addition, Club Medical personnel may impose a 14-day quarantine on Players and Permitted Personnel . . . returning to the Club’s home city from a high-risk environment, even if they are not travelling via public transportation.”

Among the personnel prohibited from entering team facilities during Phase 2 are the media, agents, players’ family members, massage therapists, chiropractors and player performance personnel.

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