NHL: Breaking Down the Phases of Return to Play

NHL Arena (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
NHL Arena (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The NHL is phasing its return to hockey and the 24 team playoff format.

As the NHL and NHLPA agree to a 24 team playoff format, the actual return to play will be segmented into different phases with a lot of vocabulary that can be confusing.

If you thought that the NHL would just jump towards playing now that the NHLPA has agreed to the proposed 24 team plan, boy are you wrong. But chances are you didn’t think so. So, how will the league bring back the sport? They plan on doing it in four distinct phases.

Right now we are still in phase one, the preparation phase. This is the phase that ensures we are ready for the next three phases with guidelines and protocols that will ensure the protection of players, coaches, and staff as the league prepares to undertake the biggest playoff race in the history of the game.

The league also released a memo for the guidelines and protocols for phase two that need to be met in phase one before we can move forward. Phase two is small group workouts at team facilities. Phase three is training camp and phase four is, naturally, return to play:

Now before we get giddy and start planning our watch parties (don’t) let’s take a look at these guidelines and what the league needs to do to simply enter phase two.

First off, the players have to be in their club cities. That might be difficult with the number of players in Europe and across North America. These players, as they arrive back home, will have to be tested for infection and antibodies. As anyone can attest to, this will not be a quick and easy process.

Next comes the fun part. If you can read the sarcasm in that sentence, that is because there is deep sarcasm in it. According to the memo, “the Club’s Medical Director and Head Athletic Trainer shall conduct a remote educational meeting for Players” regarding  COVID and the active countermeasures in place.

But wait, there’s more.

Each player will then have to undergo a full medical evaluation and then go into a “self-quarantine”

So what if someone is symptomatic or tests positive? They will be automatically deemed unfit to play, and undergo further evaluation to confirm if they have COVID. It will be reported up the chain to the NHLPA and the player will not be qualified to play during phase four. Seems simple right?

Except when you consider that there seems to be no limit on how many players can be confirmed positive before the plan is considered a failure. But let’s not dwell on that, when can we expect the league to get to this second phase?

Right now it looks to be early June, or just a few weeks away.

If you are hesitant to believe this, you aren’t alone. There is still so much to do, starting with getting the players back to their host cities. But let’s say it actually gets done. What can they do in phase two?

Skate and individually train.

That’s it. Basically the whole point of this phase is to get these players back in shape. But they can’t do workouts that require spotters or coaches. In fact, coaches and staff won’t be allowed into facilities at all. Only six players will be allowed to use a facility at once and still have to be six feet apart.

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Here is the kicker, they can’t use any other facility. They are trapped and locked into using the team’s facilities and nothing else. Luckily for the Carolina Hurricanes, the new Wake Competition Center will be ready and open for them. It should have everything they need to get back into fighting shape from two sheets of ice to a full weightlifting room.

There is still a whole list of other requirements, restrictions, and protocols that are involved in phase two, from PPE to cleanliness of the facilities. I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say that the NHL has thought of everything when it comes to the protection of the players. My only question is if it all will be enough, or will is it just a house of cards that can topple at any time?

Only time will tell.

For now all we can do is wait with bated breath and hope that we are on the right path towards bringing hockey back into our lives.

Question for CC Readers: How do you feel about the NHL’s approach to bringing back hockey?

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