The NHL is hoping its players can return to local team training facilities at “some point in the latter half of May,” if local restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic will allow it.
“We are not targeting a specific date at this point in time,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN via email on Wednesday. “We are hoping for some point in the latter half of May. Remains to be seen.”
The league — while planning what it’s calling Phase 2 of the transition period — also sent a memo to its players and teams communicating that aspiration.
The NHL paused March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining on its schedule. The league has said it’s prepared to wait until midsummer and beyond to finish the season, as long it can keep players and staffers as safe as possible and it doesn’t prevent an 82-game 2020-21 season from happening.
The latest plan for a restart involves using four centrally located NHL arenas to host several teams playing multiple games per day, while practicing and living in environmentally controlled areas to prevent the spread of the virus among players.
“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,” the league later confirmed in a statement.
The NHL Players’ Association has stated a desire to have up to three weeks of training camp leading up to a potential restart. Reopening training facilities would be a significant step toward that end.
The issue for the NHL is that many of its cities could be under different restrictions on travel, mass gatherings and essential businesses in May. There are concerns about fairness, as some teams could return to the ice while other teams remain unable to skate.
Sources told ESPN there could be restrictions on players returning to the ice because of that. Under one plan, they would be allowed to train at the facilities, but not to skate.
“No one would be allowed to skate in any of the facilities, and if any teams allow players on the ice, they would be subject to a fine,” a source on the players’ side told ESPN. “There are certain facilities that would not be able to open due to local stay-at-home orders, and that would give certain teams an unfair competitive advantage.”
There have also been discussions about players returning to the ice but limiting the size of groups in practice sessions, which is something European soccer leagues have done as they attempt to return from paused seasons. One source said “groups of six at a time” was under consideration.
According to Daly, the NHL is “still debating the equitable access to team facilities point” and that no decisions have yet been made.
The NBA announced Monday it will allow players to return to team facilities for voluntary workouts starting May 8 as long as the facility is in an area that isn’t under a shelter-in-place order.