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NHL targets early June to enter Phase 2 of return-to-play plan

A maximum of six players will be allowed in a practice facility at one time.

Chicago Blackhawks Practice Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL is moving forward to Phase 2 of its return, and will allow players to train in small groups of no more than six at team facilities, according to a 21-page memo released by the League and the NHL Players’ Association on Monday.

The NHL did not put a date on when Phase 2 will go into effect, though it is targeting early June. In the memo, the League said it will continue to “monitor developments in each of the club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate.”

Phase 1 included self-quarantine for players and staff since March 12 when the League paused its season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The new phase includes several safety protocols, including players and team staff being given a coronavirus nasal swab test two days before Phase 2 begins. They will then be tested at least twice per week.

“As an over-riding principle, testing of asymptomatic Players and Club personnel must be done in the context of excess testing capacity, so as to not deprive health care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic individuals from necessary diagnostic tests (“Publicly Necessary Testing”),” the memo read. “Secondly, testing by its nature is for the early detection of infection and is not a replacement for the hygiene, distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting methods outlined in this framework that can help prevent infection in the first instance.”

Non-contact on-ice sessions will be for players only, with no coaches or other team personnel allowed on the ice. Players must wear face coverings at all times, except when they are exercising or on the ice. Players also will not be allowed to work out or skate at any public facility or other location.

According to the memo, each NHL will be permitted to have the same amount of personnel for each group session, which includes personnel from the following list:

• One athletic trainer
• One strength and conditioning coach
• One equipment manager
• One or two dressing room attendants (if different from club-engaged cleaning crews)
• Club’s physician(s) on an as-needed basis
• One goalie coach (who the player hires, and who is not a club employee, but who must be subject to all the required safety and precautionary measures as “Player Access” Club personnel, including, but not limited to, testing, quarantine, daily temperature/symptom screenings, etc.)

The NHL called Phase 2 “strictly voluntary” and teams are not required to have players return to their playing city. The memo also states players who live in an NHL market who don’t play for that team can have access to that facility. That is noteworthy as it relates to the Blackhawks because, for example, Dylan Strome returned to Toronto when the season was paused. Chicago-area NHL players like Avalanche forward J.T. Compher could also train at the Blackhawks’ training facility, Fifth Third Arena.

RELATED: NHL Phased Return to Sport Protocol

On Friday, the NHLPA’s executive board approved the 24-team format the NHL can use if it returns to play. The top four teams would from each the Eastern and Western Conferences would get byes, while teams five through 12 would matchup in a best-of-three play-in series. The format would see the No. 12 seeded Blackhawks face the No. 5 Oilers with the winner advancing to play the No. 4 Stars.

The NHL is aiming to host games in two or four “hub cities” in NHL markets. The League has reportedly narrowed its list down to eight or nine options, with Columbus and Las Vegas as favorites due to hotel availability and practice rinks being in close proximity to the arenas.