The Rangers opened their Greenburgh, N.Y., practice facility to their players for small group training Tuesday, as per the NHL’s Return to Play guidelines. The league has been on pause since March 12, when it halted play due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the league’s return to play plan, teams were allowed to open their facilities — where allowed by their local government and health officials — on Monday. Players would be allowed to go to the facility on a voluntary basis and skate, work out or get treatment in groups of six or less, with each group allowed to work with a strength coach/trainer.
Players were allowed to skate, but coaches were not allowed to be on ice with them. The players are to remain in the same group throughout the entirety of Phase 2, in order to minimize the risk of potentially infected players spreading the virus to multiple teammates.
The Rangers chose to open their facility on Tuesday. Six players — forwards Chris Kreider, Brendan Lemieux and Phil DiGiuseppe and defensemen Marc Staal, Adam Fox and Brendan Smith — were expected to attend. Players who have spent the pause outside of the New York area and who have been working out and/or skating where they are, can stay where they are.
According to Rangers officials, Artemi Panarin, who stayed in the area during the pause, is expected to join the small sessions in coming days, as is forward Julien Gauthier.
Most of the Rangers’ sizable European contingent went back to their countries during the pause. Only Panarin and goaltender Igor Shesterkin remained in North America. Shesterkin reportedly is in Florida, and is skating there. But goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden) and Alexandar Georgiev (Finland) have already been skating for weeks now.
For now, without a concrete date for the NHL actually restarting — the league has said Phase 3 of the restart plan, where teams open training camp, won’t occur before July 10 — most of the European players will likely stay where they are. Under the current pandemic rules, players coming back from Europe would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days before joining the team. So, it makes more sense for those players to stay where they are to continue to train.
Under the framework of the NHL’s return plan 24 of the league's 31 teams will be brought back when play restarts. The teams will be split, by Eastern and Western conferences, into groups of 12, each group being assigned to one of two "hub sites,'' where games will be played without fans in the buildings. The top four teams in each conference will play a round robin schedule for the purposes of seeding for the playoffs, while teams 5 through 12 will face each other in a best-of-five, preliminary play-in series to advance to the 16-team playoffs.
According to the plan, the Rangers, seeded 11th in the Eastern Conference, will play against the No. 6 seed Carolina Hurricanes in the play-in round. The Rangers swept all four games from the Hurricanes in the regular season. The Islanders, the No. 7 seed, will face No. 10 Florida.