When NHL training camps open July 10, players won’t be in any kind of bubble environment, the league said on Friday.
“Phase 3 [training camps] is conducted at each team’s practice facility with the players living at their homes,’’ an NHL spokesman wrote in an email to Newsday. “They have to be tested and keep themselves as isolated as possible to maintain their health and ensure they can get to Phase 4.’’
The NHL has been on pause since March 12 because of the coronavirus, but under what it called Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan, teams were allowed to open their training facilities June 8 to voluntary small group workouts and skating by players. Players initially were allowed to work together in groups of up to six, and this week the groups were allowed to expand to 12.
Phase 3 is the opening of training camps, and Phase 4 is the return to playing games, which likely will be at the end of July or the beginning of August. Twenty-four of the league’s 31 teams will be returning to play to complete the 2019-20 season, split between two “hub sites.’’ Players will be in a bubble environment, going from their hotels to the practice rink and the arena, where games will be played without fans.
When the league initially announced its return-to-play plan, it listed 10 cities as potential hub sites. With Vancouver taking itself out of consideration Thursday, that list has been whittled to five — Chicago, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Toronto. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told TSN that a decision on the hub sites was unlikely to come Friday.
Toronto’s Jason Spezza told The Associated Press that he believes players will be safer once they get to the hub cities than they are now.
“I’m pretty confident that once we get into hub cities, we’ll be able to do a good job of keeping it out,’’ Spezza said. “I think getting there is going to be the challenge, and that’s where it takes a little bit of discipline for us as players to make sure we don’t kind of derail the plans.’’
Last week, the Tampa Bay Lightning shut down their Phase 2 workouts after three players and some staff tested positive for COVID-19.
The NHL plan is for teams to train at their home facilities for two weeks and then report to their hub sites around July 23 or 24. They’ll train for a week there, likely play one or two “preseason’’ games and start play around July 30.
When play resumes, the top four teams in each of the Eastern and Western Conferences will play round-robin games against each other to determine seeding. The remaining teams will be seeded 5 through 12 and match up against one another in best-of-five play-in series to get to the 16-team playoffs.
The Islanders, seeded No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, will face the No. 10 seed Florida Panthers in a play-in series. The Rangers, seeded 11th, will face the No. 6-seeded Carolina Hurricanes.