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What will Phase 2 of return-to-play plan look like for Lightning?

The NHL anticipates getting back on the ice in early June, but it’s a slow process from there to games.
An empty Amalie Arena is seen in March in Tampa.
An empty Amalie Arena is seen in March in Tampa. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published May 28, 2020
Updated May 29, 2020

Lightning forward Alex Killorn announced “The Boys Are Back in Town” with his latest video Thursday.

The NHL anticipates moving to the second phase of its return-to-play plan, featuring players voluntarily skating in small groups, in early June. But it’s not as simple as saying, “Feel free to hop on the ice.”

Related: Alex Killorn drops a new video parodying 'The Mighty Ducks'

The coronavirus has added layers of guidance and restrictions. The league released a 29-page document titled “NHL Phased Return to Sport Protocol” on Monday. And that’s just for Phase 2.

What does this mean?

In Phase 2, groups of six players would be allowed to skate in no-contact sessions starting on a date to be determined where such gatherings would be allowed. Coaches wouldn’t be allowed to have player contact; medical and training staff would. The groups’ makeups could not change once set so players’ exposure to others could be limited. Players could do weight training as long as they didn’t need a spotter and also could do circuit-based resistance training, cardio and endurance training. They could not work out or skate at public facilities.

The players likely requested to start without coaches because they do not want to be assessed before they have a chance to get back into hockey shape.

Killorn, the Lightning’s representative to the players association, said the focus would really be on “getting our hockey legs back.” With reports Thursday that training camps won’t start before July 10, players would have time to get to where they felt comfortable before camp.

Would players need to maintain social distancing?

Yup. Players would have to maintain a distance of 6 feet between each other, including in the dressing room. The only direct contact allowed would be medical staff treating players; the league recommended assigning specific trainers to each group as much as possible. Sessions also would have to be scheduled so all players had cleared the building before the next group arrived.

The Phase 2 setup would have two categories of personnel: “Player Access” (players, medical and equipment staff) and “No Player Access” (everyone else, including coaches). They could not mix.

Further, all areas that players access would have to be disinfected before the next group arrived at the building.

“You just have to make the best of the situation,” Killorn said. “We’re doing whatever it takes to make sure we’re able to play.”

Would all players participate?

Probably. With the sessions voluntary, the Lightning could not require players who went home to return to Tampa to join small groups, but some might choose to return to do so. Players also would have the option of joining groups in the city where they are sheltering in place.

Related: What we know, and don't know, about the NHL's plan to return to play

How would this be different from practice?

These would be kind of like captain’s practices. Players probably would start with a lot of conditioning skating (laps, sprints, etc.) and also do basic puck-handling drills. But players wouldn’t be able to skate with units to set up game-like scenarios.

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How would coronavirus testing work?

All players would have to test negative for the coronavirus within 48 hours of their return to team facilities. After that, they would have symptom and temperature checks within two hours of reporting to the rink and again when they got to the rink.

The league believes, based on consultations with public health officials, that its access to tests would not take resources away from “publicly necessary testing” and has asked teams to confirm that with their municipalities.

Each organization would have to appoint a “Club Facility Hygiene Officer” who would have to be a nurse, occupational health and safety professional, or infection prevention and control professional. That person would be responsible for ensuring compliance with the league’s protocol. Teams also would have to take on an infectious disease expert as a consultant.

The Lightning haven’t appointed anyone to either position but have been working with the medical team at USF.