[UPDATE – JULY 10: NHL announces full schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers]
Now we wait.
After the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the Return to Play protocols and to a four-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, voting by the Board of Governors and full union membership comes next. Once ratified, we can officially say hockey will be back with training camps opening up next week.
The two hub cities will likely be Edmonton and Toronto with Rogers Place hosting the Western Conference and Scotiabank Arena the home for the Eastern Conference. As the two sides agreed to the RTP protocols, we know just how they plan to keep everyone in those “bubbles” safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
For starters, there will be a lot of testing, which we’ll get to. Safety will come first and there are mechanisms on both sides to pull the plug.
Training camps should open Monday, July 13 and the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will begin August 1. Before we get there, here’s how the league will run the “bubbles” in Edmonton and Toronto.
Who can come?
According to the Phase 4 document sent out Monday evening, teams can bring a maximum 52 people, which includes no more than 31 players. Teams must submit their traveling party to the league by July 13, the expected start of training camps. As part of the traveling party, teams must include three coaches, two trainers, one doctor, one security rep, one equipment manager, one massage therapist, one ART therapist/chiropractor, a compliance officer, and one content creator/social media person.
The compliance officer will have the job to “certify, in writing, by 10 p.m. local time each day, to the League Facility Hygiene Officer, that all members of the Club’s Traveling Party remain compliant with all necessary aspects of the Phase 4 Protocol. They also report any noncompliance, and how it will be remedied.”
Tests, tests, and more tests
There will be daily COVID-19 tests for every team’s traveling party. These will be done via nasal swab and there will be temperature checks and symptom screens. That’s a whopping 1,248 daily tests across the 24 teams, not including arena and hotel workers who will also require tests.
What if someone tests positive?
Anyone who shows COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolated and consult with their team’s physician. If that person tests positive, they cannot return to their team’s facilities until they test negative twice in a 24-hour period after their symptoms have subsided.
“The individual can also return to team facilities after a minimum of 10 days in self-isolation following the onset of symptoms if they have had no fever or respiratory symptoms for more than 72 hours.”
If a person tests positive and asymptomatic, they will take a confirmatory test to verify the first positive. Asymptomatic individuals who have their initial tests confirmed by a second test will have to self-isolate until they produce two negative tests within 24 hours or have 10 days pass since the first positive test. Should the confirmatory test come back negative, the asymptomatic person will stay isolated and take another test after 24 hours. If that test comes back negative they will be able to return to their team once cleared by the team physician.
Players who test positive or develop symptoms will not be publicly identified unless approved by the league and union. Expect plenty of speculation each time a player misses practice or a game.
As we’ve seen in baseball and basketball, players will have the ability to opt-out of participating, penalty-free. They just need to notify their teams in writing within three days of the agreement’s ratification.
What could cause a delay or postponement?
The league and union have the power to cancel, delay or postpone games if there are health and safety risks to players that could affect the “integrity of the competition.”
It’s unknown the specific number of positive tests that could cause a postponement or what would define an “uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19,” according to the agreement. The union has the ability to contest any ruling coming from Commissioner Gary Bettman by way of an “expedited arbitration of a grievance” in front of an impartial arbitrator.
Not playing by the rules
Violating the protocol could lead to “significant penalties, potentially including fines and/or loss of draft picks.” If a player refuses to be tested he will be forbidden to play and could also be removed from the tournament. Once inside the “bubble” you must be tested.
Players will have their own rooms on designated floors and cannot enter the room of someone else. The bars and restaurants will be open as long as everyone follows social distancing guidelines. There will also be contactless room service and delivery/pick up available from local restaurants.
Up for a round of golf? The NHL will also have trips inside and outside the “bubble” arranged for players with transportation provided. Masks are mandatory.
Speaking of masks…
Masks must be worn at all times except when exercising, eating, or on the ice. Coaches and referees do not have to wear masks during games.
Emergencies and family situations
A number of players could become fathers during the RTP. Once authorized, a person can leave the “bubble” for medical or personal reasons. When they return they must quarantine and cannot rejoin their team until testing negative four times over a four-day period.
Players will not be able to have their families visit until the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final. Families can stay in their room after quarantining and undergoing testing once inside the “bubble.”
Arena workers will disinfect benches, dasher boards, water bottle areas, and floors while players are in the dressing room. There will be dividers separating the individual water bottles.