Good morning hockey world! Last night, the National Hockey League & NHL Players Association moved one final step closer to the resumption of the 2019-2020 season. Both sides agreed to what the protocols of phase three (training camp) and phase four (hub cities/live games) will be for the NHL’s return to play plan. However, this is not the final step that is needed for the season to reach its inevitable conclusion. Both the NHL and NHLPA are currently working on a new collective bargaining agreement that is necessary in order for there to be the conclusion of the current season and address players as well as league concerns going forward. A new CBA has been in the works for a while now as the two sides have been working together on a new agreement. We will get into that further here at TXHT once the new collective bargaining agreement is agreed upon and announced. For now, I will highlight and go over the protocols that the NHL and NHLPA agreed upon last night.
Player Out Outs (within 3 days after ratification of new CBA)
Per Elliot Friedman’s tweet, players have to let their team know if they will be taking part in phase 3 and 4 within three days of the new collective bargaining agreement being ratified. If a player chooses to opt-out, they will not be penalized for choosing not to play. This gives the players a little extra time to think things over. Obviously, we have to wait for a new CBA to be agreed upon and then ratified. I definitely believe and anticipate you’ll see some players opt not to play for sure due to coronavirus concerns. It will be very interesting to see who decides not to play. I’m glad players won’t be penalized for opting out as that would be a pretty crummy thing to do.
Face Coverings/Coaches Not Required to Wear Masks on the Bench
First, I’m going to address the coaches not wearing masks behind the bench issue. Per my retweet of Chris Johnston’s original tweet, I clearly am not very happy with this. In fact, this really angers me a lot. It’s bad enough in society there’s a debate (that shouldn’t be one) about whether to wear a mask because of the coronavirus. How is this ok that the coaches don’t have to wear a mask when they are literally right behind the players within such close proximity? This absolutely baffles me how this was even agreed upon by both sides. Both sides should have done a much better job on this on. Shame on both the league and NHLPA!
According to Bob McKenzie’s tweet, anyone who enters a team facility during phase three must wear face coverings. When social distancing cannot be maintained at team facilities, face coverings are required with the exception of when a player is exercising or is on the ice. Obviously, this is the correct call. Going back to what I said previously, everyone should have to wear a mask. Plain and simple! I feel like I’m getting mixed signals here especially with the coaches not wearing masks behind the bench. Other than communicating with players, what reasons are there for coaches being exempt from wearing a mask behind the bench? Couldn’t the NHL & NHLPA have figured out some way for coaches to communicate while wearing a mask? I really would like to hear from both sides on this issue in particular.
Temperature Checks/Health Screenings
Pretty standard here. A lot of places such as local businesses are doing temperature checks before arrival as it’s part of “the new normal”. Not surprised about this being agreed upon. Players must also undergo a Pre-Participation Medical Examination (PPME) before they can begin phase three activities but after any quarantine period that’s required and has been served. Again, not surprised this was put into place. However, there is a very interesting clause that was put in place though. If after having a PPME and it is determined that a player is deemed at significant risk of developing serious illness due to COVID-19, they will not be permitted into participating in phase three or four. The league and Player’s Association are really covering all their bases here on this one.
What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?
Per Chris Johnston’s tweet, if a player tests positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms of it in phase three or four, teams are not allowed to divulge that information to the media or public absence prior to approval from the NHL (while also consulting with the NHLPA). Pretty much, we won’t know who officially has coronavirus but it will most likely be pretty obvious. However, things get a little bit more interesting according to Bob McKenzie. If a player’s test result is not received within twenty-four hours, that player is not permitted in club facilities until their test result has been received giving them clearance to be at the facility. Also, any player who tests positive for COVID-19 or related illness will be deemed “unfit to play”. It will be treated as an illness coming from his employment as a hockey player and will be treated as a hockey-related injury under the CBA.
NHL Hub Cities & “The Bubble” Rules
Here is yet another part that is very interesting. Just as a brief recap, Toronto and Edmonton have been picked as the hub cities for the twenty-four team tournament. The biggest talk about these hub cities was having a “bubble” or specific area(s) that players and team personnel are allowed to go within these hub cities. The bubble is supposed to provide the player’s options of having places to go and things to do when they are not on the ice training or playing games. This bubble will host players, coaches, team officials, referees, ice crews, security, hotel staff, and transportation. With this many people, there’s going to be a lot of testing. According to Frank Seravalli, there could be as much as 2,000 cornavirus tests being done a day at the beginning of this tournament! When you do the math, that’s about 20,000 tests within the first ten days. As far as the bubble is concerned, players authorized are allowed to leave it for medical reasons or personal reasons and can return to it. Players will be mandated to quarantine on pending four negative tests or a four day period or longer depending on the location and circumstances. The NHL has put in a policy for any team that fails to comply with these protocols within the bubble. According to Frank Seravalli, it “could lead to significant financial penalties, and potentially the loss of draft picks”. Obviously, players and teams will be complying with these rules. It seems like there’ll be a lot of back and forth between players, the NHL, and NHLPA if any circumstances should arise within the bubble.
Things Can Get Shutdown
It was made very clear, that at any point before or during play of this tournament, the NHL and NHLPA have the right to postpone, delay, move, or cancel any games if the conditions present a “risk to player health and safety” or that will jeopardize “the integrity of the competition.”
Some of these conditions could include “an uncontrolled outbreak of COVID-19 in the players of one or more clubs” participating in the tournament. I noticed that there is no specific number of positive coronavirus cases that was provided within the protocol that actually defines what the “uncontrolled outbreak” is. The NHL maintains that one or more positive tests won’t stop play.
Per Elliott Friedman’s tweets, the NHLPA can contest any ruling from commissioner Gary Bettman in the form of an “expedited arbitration of a grievance” that would be decided by an impartial arbitrator. Pretty much, if the NHLPA isn’t happy with how the commissioner is handling the process, they can file a grievance to help settle the issue(s).
The phase four protocol addresses the players concerns about their families. If players and teams advance, they will go a minimum of five weeks away from their families. While players are away from their families, team officials will assist the player’s families with grocery shopping and delivery as well as errand delivery. That is a very nice gesture and glad this was included. I’m sure it makes the players feel a bit better knowing someone will be around to help out their familiy if they need anything. Frank Seravalli points out in phase four that families will be allowed to join for Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final which will be hosted in Edmonton. Families will be allowed to share hotel rooms at that point in time. Obviously, you want your family around if you are very close to possibly winning a Stanley Cup. This also gives a clear amount of time that will be away from families. I’m sure the players wanted that to be addressed and was a big priority.
During intermissions, the bench area including flooring, bench surface, top of dasher board, water bottle area and glass will be disinfected. It looks like vertical dividers will be installed in the water bottle area on the bench so each players’ drink bottle is kept separate and held upright. Good call on that one!
NHL teams will bring along one content creator/social media employee to provide content for team web sites and social media accounts. I’m sure this may answer the question that media won’t be traveling with the team. Beat reporters may be likely be covering the team from home and are likely doing post-game conference calls on zoom or some sort of platform compared to covering post-game in person. We’ll have to wait and see how this aspect plays out.
Also, NHL teams won’t have a dress code. Normally players are required to arrive to games in a suit. I’m assuming they changed this for the players to make changing back into their street clothes much easier and to help speed along the post game process.
The next and final step in the return to play process is a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It looks like it’s just about done and everyone involved has to agree on, take a vote and ratify it. I anticipate this being fully done within the next couple of days. Please stay tuned as TXHT will bring you the latest once the new CBA is fully complete and announced!