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NHL Phase 2: Details, what's allowed, next steps for 2019-20 season return

Sporting News — customerservice@sportingnews.com (Sporting News)

After three months without hockey, the NHL is moving closer to getting back on the ice. 

Phase 2 of the league's planned return began June 8. The league in May established detailed guidelines that teams need to follow to reopen their facilities.

"The NHL has worked closely with the NHLPA and the Players on the Resumption of Play Committee in establishing the framework for this phased approach," the league said when it announced the guidelines, "and has also developed this approach with the input of NHL medical, epidemiology and infectious disease experts as well as Club medical personnel."

Here's everything we know so far about Phase 2 of the NHL's return.

When will NHL players be allowed to return to the ice?

Phase 2 began June 8 with team facilities being allowed to reopen in a limited fashion. 

Not every player will be allowed back on the ice at once, however. The guidelines only allow for small gatherings of up to six players, along with a limited number of club staff, to engage in voluntary, individual training activities. 

What hockey activities will be allowed on the ice?

Players will be allowed to participate in non-contact skating drills with all coaches and other staff having to remain off the ice. Coaches and members of hockey operations will be able to watch these sessions once a training camp is announced. They cannot have in-person interactions with the players.

The amount of time given to each player for skating practice will be divided equally within each small group of six. When they're not on the ice, players will be allowed to use the exercise and weight rooms to perform weight training (that doesn't require the use of a spotter), cardio, endurance training and rehab for players who are dealing with injuries. 

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All team members will be required to practice social distancing by maintaining a six-foot distance between themselves and others, the only exception being medical staff helping players rehab injuries.

Inside the building, players will also have to wear masks whenever they're not actively exercising, while other staff members must wear masks at all times. Trainers and physiotherapists must also wear gloves when interacting with players.

All facilities will be thoroughly cleaned at the start of each day, the end of each day and in between training sessions. 

How will players travel back to their team's city?

The NHL is facing one of its biggest headaches trying to get all its players back to their respective team cities.

Because the league allowed all players to return home when the season was paused, a number of players have to travel from overseas and cross international borders. 

Certain countries, such as Canada, are requiring a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for anyone who has arrived from abroad. The league will require players to abide by these rules, and it also stated that "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." 

For the time being, no player will be required to travel back to their team's city in order to take part in training activities.

When actual play resumes, players will likely be traveling to one of two hub cities that will host games. The Canadian Press reported that the federal government of Canada would allow a bypass of the 14-day quarantine for players traveling to Edmonton or Toronto, the two Canadian cities in the running to be a hub city. 

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Will NHL players be tested for COVID-19?

According to the guidelines, all players and team staff will be tested 48 hours prior to returning to the team facilities, with results coming back within 24 hours. No team member will be allowed back until they have received a confirmed negative test. If possible, the league recommended that teams continue to test their players at least twice weekly.

The memo did note that all testing "must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic individuals from necessary diagnostic tests." It also acknowledged that widespread testing on that scale may not be available for every team. In that case, all players will have to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine, regardless of whether they're showing symptoms, before returning to practice.

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All players and staff will also be required to perform daily temperature and symptom checks at their homes before they depart for the team facility and also as soon as they arrive. Anyone with a temperature over 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius) will not be given access to the facility.

On Monday, June 29, the NHL reported 15 players have returned a positive test, out of the 250 who have returned for Phase 2. In addition, the league is aware of at least 11 other players outside of the Phase 2 protocol who also have tested positive.

What happens if a team doesn't follow the rules?

The memo makes it clear that this is a strictly voluntary opportunity for the players; therefore, it indicates that any teams failing to comply with the guidelines will be subject to severe punishment, including fines or the loss of draft picks. 

How long will NHL Phase 2 last?

The league has announced that Phase 2 will last until July 10.

The next step, Phase 3, is expected to consist of training camp, and a vast number of players are going to be forced to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to practice in any capacity during Phase 2. 

With the postseason expected to stretch into July, August and probably even September — if it can be completed at all — there's still some time before the league seriously considers hitting the ice for a return to competitive hockey.

When will teams allow players to return to team facilities?

Each NHL team can decide when it wants to reopen its facilities.The Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights were first to open their facilities on June 8 for players to train in small groups. Other teams, including the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames in Canada and the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks in the U.S., have followed.

The Lightning shut down their facility for five days after three players and several staffers tested positive, but they recently reopened their facilities.