The big news around the NHL on Friday was an outbreak that had three Tampa Bay Lightning players, and additional staff, test positive for the COID-19 virus, necessitating a temporary shutdown of that facility. The league has said that 11 total players have tested positive, out of 200 total tested.
NHL statement on Phase 2 testing. pic.twitter.com/2FBhgdbFsP— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 19, 2020
Undeterred, on Saturday reports leaked of the league’s future plans and finally have detailed some dates when more tangible steps will start.
From NHL GM's meeting, Post has learned that training camp is set for two weeks, with teams traveling to respective hub city on July 23 or 24 before playing one exhibition game. The Stanley Cup tournament that begins with qualifying rounds is scheduled to begin on July 30.— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) June 20, 2020
Phase 3, full training camps that will be mandatory, is scheduled to begin on July 10th. Right now players are in Phase 2, a voluntary small group workout setting at team facilities.
One reason the NHL isn’t that concerned right now about players testing positive is the sheer nature of this phase. Players are not locked down in any way, and technically free to do whatever they choose. While most are exercising restraint on how much they’re going out in public, as human beings sometimes it’s unavoidable.
The NHL’s reasoning, or hope, however good it may or may not be, is that as the league ramps up into the latter stages, the level of isolation for the players will increase.
We don’t yet know the TBD terms/conditions of Phase Three (training camp) and Four (playing games in Hub cities), but they would presumably be much more protective of players/staff. Phase Four will likely be a fully-locked down bubble environment.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 19, 2020
There’s also more chatter about what the two hubs will be. Pretty much all involved expect the league to make Vegas one of the hubs. Las Vegas is an event city, and their arena is connected to hotels and practice facilities, so it will be as simple as simple is in this world to keep everyone in and isolated.
The latest strong contender and popular city mentioned by the national league-wide reporters is Vancouver.
The two Vs — Vancouver/Vegas, maybe. Next two weeks: hub selections, lottery, player vote on protocols/CBA framework. All while we monitor testing results. https://t.co/8xgcHRZJZP— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 20, 2020
Vancouver would be interesting. On one hand it may seem strange to have two west coast locales as host cities, but then again it’s not as if there will be fans and games can, and surely will, still be staggered for the eastern time zones where needed.
As far as local ties goes, there’s been almost no mention of Pittsburgh as a hub city recently. Given how far away the UPMC Lemieux practice facility is in Cranberry from the game arena, that may be a factor that sends the league looking for other locations. The Penguins weren’t likely to have a home ice advantage anyways, but for the players it looks like they will have to leave their homes and families on/around July 23/24, perhaps not to return until sometime in October if they keep winning.
As Friedman mentions, the next few weeks will be extremely busy for the league. They’ll settle on and finally name the hubs. They’ll do part 1 of the convoluted draft lottery — where only the seven teams not currently in the playoffs will have their respective draft slots able to win the lottery. If statistically one of them does not win, a later draft lottery will be held among the other teams that qualify.
Among all this, they’re also negotiating the framework of the next CBA with the players, as well as dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s to get the players to agree to get back on the ice with all the procedures and plans for this restarted season.
All of this among and increase of testing and positive tests for the virus among players and staff. Truly a lot going on as the NHL attempts to ramp the league back up.