The NHL season was suspended until further notice on March 12. It remains suspended as the league and its players struggle to find a way to resume play. (CBC Sports)

Seeking open ice, NHL details steps aimed at a return

Well, let’s see how this (ahem) plays out.

The National Hockey League (NHL) has released a document detailing Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan.

When that return to play — for real — might come remains anyone’s guess.

The league suspended play March 12, and is still in what it calls Phase 1 of its shutdown, as players remain under league-mandated quarantine. 

Phase 2, announced Monday, includes protocols for travelling to club cities, testing, opening practice facilities for small voluntary group workouts on and off the ice, and the wearing of personal protective equipment when entering and leaving club facilities.

It does not include any dates or guidelines around training camps or the resumption of the 2019-20 campaign.

“It has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last,” the 22-page memo read. 

“We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties.”

St. Louis’ Ivan Barbashev, left, and Vladimir Tarasenko celebrate after the Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. There will be no Cup final this June. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Michael Dwyer)

On Friday, player representatives from all 31 teams voted to continue negotiations over a 24-team return-to-play format — a big step in the league’s effort to bring the game back and ultimately crown a Stanley Cup champion.

 Below are some of the key guidelines released Monday:

  • If the Phase 2 plan gets the green light, on-ice sessions will be non-contact and involve up to six players, who will be expected to maintain physical distancing at all times. Players will be required to wear masks when entering and exiting facilities, and when not able to physically distance.
  • “Face coverings [cloth or surgical-type mask] shall be worn at all times — other than while exercising — when entering or leaving the club facility and while inside the club facility where social distancing cannot be maintained,” the memo read. “Players are not required to wear face coverings when they are exercising or on the ice.”
  • Teams are also not allowed to require a player to return to a club’s home city to complete any necessary quarantine measures before the workouts begin. Coaches and management will be allowed to watch, but not participate in, the informal skates.

The final two phases of the return-to-play protocol — training camps followed by a resumption of game action — were not mentioned in the memo. 

With files from The Canadian Press (Joshua Clipperton)

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