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NHL announces offseason training protocol

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It’s a recycling of the Phase 2 Return to Play pre-training camp rules.

Skyline in the downtown district showing the St. Lawrence... Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

Today the NHL announced their protocol for offseason training at team facilities. The rules draw heavily on the Phase 2 protocols that covered players returning to their facilities prior to the official start of training camp before the Return to Play.

All protocols are subject to being overridden by local rules, and attendance at club facilities is voluntary. Teams can choose to open their facilities prior to October 15, but as long as at least five players request access, they must open up by that date.

Like in Phase 2, players from other teams can use the ice for skating and the weight room upon request, so it seems likely the facility in Toronto will be in use by more than five players at all times.

Only 12 players may be on the ice at one time, and the social distancing and hygiene rules from Phase 2 are back. Coaching staffs are not allowed to run offseason training sessions, and they won’t be present on the ice.

Players and staff will be tested 48 hours before they are allowed access (assumes a 24 hour turnaround time on the test) and then they will be tested twice a week. The same contact tracing, isolation and confirmation testing rules for positive tests are back, and as usual, all testing is subject to the local availability of tests, and teams will not be removing testing capacity from local areas.

The Phase 2 limitations on numbers of staff, access to players and restrictions of the use of the facilities are back as well.

One new wrinkle is the change to required pre-training medical clearance:

Players are not required to undergo a PPME* for the purposes of participation in Off-Season Training in the facility. However, anyone who has had COVID-19 shall have a cardiac screening, as the CDC instructs that certain individuals are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including, without limitation, people of all ages with underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019- ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html). Accordingly, before being permitted to participate in off-season training at the facility, Players shall be screened to determine whether they have previously contracted COVID-19 or whether they are at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

* This seems to mean Periodic Preventative Medical Examination but is not defined in the document.

The document says:

Absent prior approval by the League (who shall consult with the NHLPA), there shall be no disclosure by the Club to the media or to the public of information relating to a positive test result or to a person developing COVID19 symptoms during Off-Season Training.

This kind of language appeared in earlier protocols, and the league and NHLPA negotiated their current reporting system.

As you likely recall, there were positive COVID-19 tests during Phase 2, a few on entry to Phase 3, and none to date in the Return to Play. The final Phase 2 testing numbers were:

Those positive tests included highly publicized outbreaks in Tampa Bay and Arizona, and of course, Auston Matthews later confirmed he had become infected during Phase 2. He reported that an exact source of his infection was unknown.

The new CBA Memo of Understanding includes tougher rules to prevent teams from requiring players to do anything they don’t volunteer for in the offseason. This limits player access to certain staff members such as skills coaches or consultants. Under these protocols, those people would not be allowed access to players anyway.

While the document includes suggestions for player behaviour while not at training, the NHL does not have the right to restrict movement or freedom of choice from players. They can’t make these suggestions binding.

No media will be allowed at facilities for this training period.

As of now, the NHL is following a calendar that presupposes the mid-November training camp start and the December 1 season start are possible. However, at his recent address before the final round of the playoffs began, Gary Bettman called that December date, “notional”. He said the NHL wants an 82 game season, and to not have playoffs in the summer as well. Nothing he or Bill Daly have said indicate they think that December start date is very likely or that they will be guaranteed to get a new season to fulfill everything they want.

This Phase 2 redux training may go on for months not weeks, and there may well be new rules allowing for downtime for teams struggling to pay for all of this with no money coming in.

The full text of the rules is available at the NHL site.