Yes, that’s right – NHL hockey is back in action, albeit in a very limited form.
The NHL and the NHLPA arrived at an agreement recently to start re-opening up training for NHL teams who will be involved in the upcoming 24 team tournament to decide the 2020 Stanley Cup.
As of Monday, 6/8/20, the NHL is now in “Phase Two” which means that each NHL team can choose to open up their facilities to individual players to work out both on and off the ice, as long as no more than six players and a limited number of staff members present at any given time.
Players from the 24 tournament teams now have the option to begin workouts, although these workouts are completely voluntary at this time and players can exercise their own options to resume training with some limited contact with other teammates and staff or wait until a later date to resume training.
For the Islanders, GM Lou Lamoriello summed up the NHL and the Isles’ policy on player workouts:
“Even if a player decides he doesn’t want to start skating Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, at least he knows he has the option, and there’s a comfortability with that,” Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said.
Players now have the ability to start working out in familiar arenas and weight rooms and in the company (limited at best) with the familiar faces of teammates and team staff members.
Both the NHL and the NHLPA are using Phase II as a gradual re-introduction not only for players to get in playing shape again but resuming contact slowly with other players and team staff. However, this phase must come as a welcomed change of pace in the right direction and a sign that hockey will start up again in the summer.
For players like the Isles’ Josh Bailey, Phase Two brings a sense of normalcy and some fun again in preparation for the upcoming tournament:
“It was good. It was nice to just get back in there,” Islanders forward Josh Bailey said. “It’s a familiar place for us. It’s nice to get back on the ice too; it’s obviously been a while. That’s where we’re comfortable out there, so it was nice to feel the puck. We didn’t go too crazy on Day One, but nonetheless, it was fun to get out there.”
The NHL plans to start Phase III of the “Return to Play” protocols by opening up a formal training camp for the remaining 24 teams starting July 10th. However, this training camp date will still come under the mandate of governmental and health authorities who will no doubt closely monitor the progress of each team’s health status including continuous testing for Covid-19. A date for the actual tournament has not been set and hockey fans should expect the culmination of the 2019-20 season to be sometime this fall.
The first 16 teams in the tournament are still expecting to play a best of five series with the Islanders scheduled to play the Florida Panthers in the opening tournament round. The top four teams from each conference are also expected to play in a seeding round robin and then face the winners of the first round of the tournament. From there, teams will advance until the Stanley Cup finals.
Furthermore, the NHL has indicated that this tournament should not threaten the start of the 2020-21 season; however, with timeframes still “up in the air” it will be interesting to see how much of a break there will be between this prolonged season and next year.
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