Even with the news that there have been some positive cases reported among NHL players, the league will allow on-ice practice sessions for the New York Rangers to include up to 12 players starting Tuesday according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston.
The NHL’s decision to increase the number of players allowed at practice sessions is part of a continuation of Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan. Phase 3, which includes the reopening of training camps, is scheduled to begin July 10. Since June 8 when Phase 2 was implemented, teams were allowed only six players at the practice sessions.
Effective tomorrow, the NHL will allow Phase 2 groups to be expanded to 12 players for on-ice sessions. Those had been limited to six skaters apiece since small-group workouts began in team facilities on June 8.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) June 22, 2020
This comes on the heels of the Tampa Bay Lightning temporarily shutting down their training facility after three players and additional staffers tested positive for the COVID-19. In response to this, other players and staffers who have been at the facility are being tested. The Lightning and NHL will figure out how to proceed based on the results of those tests.
In the meantime, some players are expressing concern about whether it will be safe to return in July, as the league recently announced that 11 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since Phase 2 of the league’s return-to-play plan began on June 8.
INSTANT ANALYSIS: @TSNBobMcKenzie & @GinoRedaTSN discuss the Lightning shutting down their training facility because of positive COVID-19 tests and how that could affect the NHL's Return to Play plan – https://t.co/n8Kc21rqJl#TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/bJyvqPb0CC
— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) June 19, 2020
The NHL and NHLPA are still working out health and safety protocols for Phase 3 (training camps) and Phase 4 (games). However, the league has already announced that it will be testing players and staff daily once games resume. Each test costs approximately $125 and Commissioner Gary Bettman has estimated that 25,000 to 35,000 tests will be needed to get through the playoffs.
In light of these events and the seeming resurgence of the virus in the absence of a complete national strategy to combat it, social distancing was a topic of conversation at a recent meeting, with GMs told that players and staff that they are not to be going to restaurants and clubs.
Regardless, the NHL is going forward with increasing the number of practice participants in phase 2, with the reminder that participation in this phase is strictly voluntary. It is also noted that the increase will help facilitate the return of players from other locations, especially since the league recommended that overseas players return to help facilitate the extensions of their work visas.