The Tampa Bay Lightning have shut down their training facility after three players and several staff members tested positive for COVID-19 during the team’s small group training activities, the team announced Friday afternoon. In addition, a report in the Toronto Sun said Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews has tested positive for the virus in Arizona.
“We have learned that three players and additional staff members have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus,’’ Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said in a statement posted on the team’s Twitter page. “Those players have been self-isolated following CDC protocols and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever. Those who have been in contact with these individuals have been notified.
“Upon receiving positive tests [Thursday], team training facilities were immediately closed with all players and staff being sent home. Those facilities will remain temporarily shut down until we can ensure a safe environment.’’
The Maple Leafs released a statement Friday night, saying they “will not be commenting on reports surrounding testing for any of the club’s players or staff.”
Both Florida and Arizona, where Matthews lives in the offseason, have seen spikes in the coronavirus in recent days, and both states recorded a record number of positive cases Friday. Florida reported 3,822 new cases, up from the previous record of 3,207 reported on Thursday. Arizona reported 3,246 new cases on Friday, up from the previous record of 2,519 on Thursday.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported earlier in the day that three Lightning players and two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus and that the remaining players and staff participating in the small group training — Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan after the league’s March 12 shutdown — were being tested. McKenzie, in a series of tweets, said his understanding is that if the remaining players and staff test negative, the small group training will resume.
The Lightning’s test results, and Matthews’ result, bring to 14 the number of NHL players who have tested positive for COVID-19 since the league stopped play.
The NHL allowed teams to reopen their practice facilities last week for small group training in which players could, voluntarily, use team facilities to skate, work out and get treatment. According to the NHL’s regulations, groups were to be no more than six players, and the group of players was to stay together through the duration of the training in order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus within the team.
Players attending group workouts are not quarantined in any way and can move around in their home areas according to the local health and safety department rules.
The NHL plans to resume its season with 24 of its 31 teams split between two “hub sites.’’ Twelve teams from the Eastern and Western Conferences will return to play, with the top four teams in each conference playing round-robin games against each other to determine the order of the top four seeds. The remaining teams, seeded 5 through 12, are set to square off in best-of-five play-in series to advance to the 16-team playoffs.
The Islanders, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, are set to face the No. 10 Florida Panthers. The Rangers, the No. 11 seed, will face the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes.
The NHL has not chosen the sites, announcing only that it will choose from among 10 finalists: Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
Canada, which has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country, moved on Thursday to waive that requirement for the NHL, thus clearing the way for the three Canadian cities among the finalists — Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver — to be used as a hub site.
Phase 3 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan — training camps — is set to open July 10. Phase 4 of the plan is the playing of games. As of now, there is no date for when Phase 4 would begin.