NHL offers hope players could return to ice in small groups by middle or end of May

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NHL players, coaches and staff members will remain in self-quarantine indefinitely, the league and the NHL Players’ Association said Wednesday in a joint statement, but the two groups offered hope for a return to the ice by suggesting players might engage in small-group activities by the middle or end of May “provided that conditions continue to trend favorably.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman put the 2019-20 season on pause on March 12 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. He subsequently issued several stay-at-home directives, with the most recent period scheduled to run through Thursday. European-born players were permitted to return to their homelands to await word on whether the season will resume, and many have done so.

Bettman said last week he is willing to schedule games during the summer to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup, which he said could be accomplished without infringing on the 2020-21 season.

The regular season was about 85% complete when the season was put on hold and no decision has been made on whether the schedule would be played out — even though several teams were eliminated from playoff contention — or whether play would pick up with the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Among the NHL’s options are playing games without fans, to adhere to local restrictions on mass gatherings, and staging games in two or four hub cities to minimize travel for players and keep them in a virus-free bubble as much as possible.

The statement issued Wednesday followed a meeting of the Return to Play committee, which is comprised of representatives of the league and the players.

Here’s the text:

“Following the NHL/NHLPA Return to Play Committee’s meeting today, and in line with guidance provided by medical experts and national and local authorities, the NHLPA and the NHL issued the following statement regarding the continuing pause in the 2019-20 season:

“Despite numerous reports and speculation over the last several days, the NHL and the NHLPA have not made any decisions or set a timeline for possible return to play scenarios.

“Given recent developments in some NHL Clubs’ local communities, we are now looking ahead to a Phase 2 of the transition period that would follow the currently recommended Phase 1 period of ‘self-quarantine’ by Players and Hockey Staff.

“The precise date of transition to Phase 2, during which Players might return to small group activities in NHL Club training facilities, remains undetermined. However, provided that conditions continue to trend favorably — and, subject to potential competitive concerns as between disparately situated markets — we believe we may be able to move to Phase 2 at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May. Specific guidelines governing Player and Hockey Staff activity would be provided at that time. In the meantime, we expect Players and Hockey Staff to continue to adhere to the recommended guidelines put in place when the season was paused on March 12.

“The Return to Play Committee will continue to meet regularly.”


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