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NHL sets Phase 2 small-group training for early June

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and the Bruins in Boston on May 27, 2019. (AP file photo)

TORONTO (AP) — The NHL hopes to have players back in team facilities soon — with plenty of precautions.

The league, which paused its season on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, released a memo Monday saying it is targeting early next month as the start date for Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol, including the opening of practice rinks and allowing small, voluntary group workouts on and off the ice.

“It has not yet been determined when precisely Phase 2 will start or how long it may last,” the memo read. “We are continuing to monitor developments in each of the club’s markets, and may adjust the overall timing if appropriate, following discussion with all relevant parties.”

The NHL, which has worked closely with the NHL Players’ Association on the phased approach, said that while it views the protocol as “very comprehensive … (it) cannot mitigate all risk.”

“A range of clinical scenarios exist, from very mild to fatal outcome,” the 22-page memo continued. “COVID-19 generally affects older age groups and those with previously existing medical conditions, more so than younger, and otherwise healthy, individuals.

“We recognize that players and personnel have family and household members who may fall into these vulnerable categories.”

If the Phase 2 plan gets the green light, on-ice sessions will be noncontact and involve up to six players, who will be expected to maintain physical distancing at all times. Players will be required to wear masks when entering and exiting facilities, and when not able to physically distance.

“Players are not required to wear face coverings when they are exercising or on the ice,” the memo said.

Coaches and management will be allowed to watch, but not participate in, the informal skates.

The union’s executive board approved further negotiations on a 24-team playoff format Friday.

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