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Penguins expecting “well over half” the team to be in town as ramping up begins tomorrow

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Finally, talking some hockey...Kinda

2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series - Practice Sessions & Family Skate Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

For the first time in almost three months, members of the Pittsburgh Penguins are about to be officially and formally be back on the ice. The NHL moves into “Phase 2” tomorrow, which allows players to voluntarily have the option to get back into team facilities in small groups for off-ice workouts as well as on-ice, non-coached practices.

Here’s what Pierre LeBrun from The Athletic said about the Pens:

“Well over half’’ of the Penguins’ roster is expected to be in town when Phase 2 opens. The team intends to open its practice facility at some point next week.

Via social media, we’ve seen Evgeni Malkin has returned to the ‘Burgh. He also posted a workout video on Saturday getting some training in his driveway, before unleashing a silky J on the court. And then, amusingly enough in true Geno fashion, calling out countryman and former NBA player Andrey Kirilenko (most famous of the Utah Jazz) after making about a half-court shot.

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СолиднA?!я тебя жду @ak47russ!

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Conor Sheary also showed in an Instagram story a picture of his pups and wife loaded up in a car heading back to Pittsburgh after quarantining in his native New England.

One interesting angle will be travel from Canada into the United States. Until at least June 19th there is a mutual agreement for “ temporary restrictions on non-essential travel across our shared border”, but work is also listed under “essential travel” and the Pens’ Canadian contingent like Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry and Jared McCann all have work visas which might help facilitate getting back into the States, should they want to at this time.

To go from the US to Canada requires a mandatory 14 day quarantine, and the NHL’s mandates include that quarantine as well should any player cross a border with commercial air or rail transportation. Ironically enough, it would appear that for at least the next two weeks if Murray and Jarry are indisposed, the best goalie in town and available will likely be Casey DeSmith. DeSmith has a house in Pittsburgh, which he didn’t get to live in during the season since he was sent to the AHL, but has turned convenient now. NHL roster sizes have not been determined, but it is strongly believed teams will carry four goalies, so DeSmith will likely be with the NHL players for the remainder of this season in some capacity.

Testing and caution will be key. The Pens plan to have medical tests for players on Monday, and if the tests come back with no problems (as is expected), then players will be allowed to workout starting on Tuesday.

Phase 2 workouts include:

Clubs will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their home city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups (i.e., a maximum of six Players at any one time, plus a limited number of Club staff). The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning. Phase 2 is not a substitute for training camp.

It was noted in the past that players are also allowed to use facilities that aren’t their teams. So Jason Zucker or Jake Guentzel could conceivably workout at the Wild’s building, if they wanted. Ditto Patrick Marleau in San Jose. That will be a nice move, especially for players like Zucker and Marleau that have geographical family commitments that makes staying at their home preferable at this point instead of going back to Pittsburgh in June when full camp practices is still weeks, if not months, away from happening.

Similarly, players based in Western PA could use the UPMC Lemieux facility, though I don’t believe any NHL players from Pittsburgh have returned back home. Social media posts, for instance, have shown that Vincent Trocheck has remained in North Carolina, so he’ll be back with the Hurricanes.

The other interesting nugget from LeBrun spells out that not all teams are planning to reopen this week. The Pens’ play-in opponent, the Montreal Canadiens, are among a handful of teams that aren’t reopening immediately, due to a lack of players that remained local.

The Habs have three players in town as Phase 2 sets to open. As of Friday, the Canadiens were looking at mid-week to open up its practice facility.

Given that the season isn’t starting up until at least August, that might not be a huge advantage that the Pens will largely be getting on the ice together (in some limited form) a lot quicker than many of the Canadiens, but it is an interesting angle to watch. The Pens attendance and Pittsburgh-based population, as written by LeBrun, does appear to be on the higher end across the league. Which again, might not be worth a lot, but then again given the long layoff, it surely can’t be a negative that the Pens will be getting a lot of their players back together quicker than their competition.

Phase 3 is training camp, and that won’t begin until mid-July, at the earliest. The league and players still have much to negotiate, navigate and iron out as everyone treads these uncharted waters together. This next step of small organized workouts will be the NHL’s next step for at least the next 6+ weeks as the league looks to return to finish their season. It’s not much, but it is something, and a tangible step towards restarting the league.