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Lightning Round: NHL begins Phase 2 of return to play plan today

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The league takes a small step toward returning.

2019 NHL Global Series Sweden Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Today is the official beginning of Phase 2 of the NHL’s return to play plan. As of this morning, players can officially return to the ice for training with their teams.

While this is a small milestone in the process of the NHL resuming the 2019-2020 season, we’re still far from games returning. Phase 2 is optional for players and they’ll be restricted to skating in small groups of no more than six. They also have to complete a 14-day quarantine and take a test to minimize as much of the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 as possible. Beyond the initial test, players will have to undergo a temperature and symptom check with the team’s appointed medical official prior to entering the facility to participate in any practices.

For all the details on what Phase 2 means, you can check out this article from Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic.

As far as how the Lightning specifically will handle Phase 2, LeBrun reported yesterday on how the Bolts are approaching the immediate future.

The Bolts don’t expect any of their out-of-market players to return for the beginning of Phase 2 but many Lightning players have stayed in Tampa during the pandemic. GM Julien BriseBois asked his players in town if they wanted the team’s facility open and most indicated they would like to have that option. Accordingly, the Bolts are preparing to open their facility for skating on Tuesday. The Lightning will conduct COVID testing for the players on Saturday, medicals Monday and open the rink for skating on Tuesday.

The next step in this process will be Phase 3, which would be a training camp that likely won’t start until at least the middle of July. However, the league and NHL Player’s Association have not yet agreed to all the parameters that need to be in place before teams can mandate players return to team facilities.

As of yet, we’ve heard no official agreement regarding the most complicated parts of Phase 3 such as testing procedures, policies for movement and activities within the hub cities, player family policies, expanded roster limits, etc.

So far, the league and the PA seem to be taking things sequentially and resolving the easier items on their negotiating list. The next couple of weeks will be key in making progress toward agreements on the more challenging items. Those negotiations combined with how Phase 2 progresses as well as the overall state of the pandemic over the next month will determine if the NHL is able to move to Phase 3 as planned or whether they will face setbacks that further delay the return to play.

Other News and Notes

The Penguins have more than half of their team in town and are prepared to open their facility at some point this 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.

As a contrast, the Blues will not be opening their facility immediately. They’re going to wait a little longer until the players indicate that they want access to the facility to continue staying in game shape.

It’s not a league wide opening, and Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is telling his players to hold off. As Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch:

“I have talked with the players and they will tell us when they think we should open. If they feel comfortable training as they are (currently), they should. When they want us to open, we will.”