Colorado Avalanche: Evaluation of Phase 2 of Return to Play

DENVER, CO - MARCH 03: A detail photo of the puck on the ice as the Pittsburgh Penguins face the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on March 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Penguins defeated the Avalanche 5-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - MARCH 03: A detail photo of the puck on the ice as the Pittsburgh Penguins face the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on March 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Penguins defeated the Avalanche 5-1. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) /

The Colorado Avalanche will soon be opening up their facilities to players for informal practices as Phase 2 of the NHL’s COVID response.

Colorado Avalanche players in North America may soon have access to NHL ice for informal practices. The NHL has released Phase 2 of the Return to Play protocol.

Phase 2 is supposed to be the second in a four-phase plan to finish the 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup. The first phase was the self-quarantine of players starting after the league put the season on pause in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Phase 3 would be an official return to practice and Phase 4 would be resumption of play.

Let’s look at some of the provisions in the 22-page memo, which you can read here if you want to read 22 pages of legal speak about hockey. The plan will go into action sometime at the beginning of June.

Return to NHL Cities

On March 16, four days into quarantine, the NHL allowed players to leave for their permanent homes. According to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, 17% of NHL players are currently outside North America. Clubs must facilitate any player’s return to the home city, but they can’t require players to return. Most players will have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine before they can engage in Phase 2 activities.

That said, players living in North America don’t have to return to their club cities if they don’t want to. As long as they’re in an NHL city, they will be given access to NHL practice facilities. For instance, Gabriel Landeskog traveled to Toronto, so he should be allowed to use the Maple Leaf’s practice facilities.

The memo states players are not supposed to carpool together to return to their club city. I think that’s at least partially aimed at the European players, who shared charter flights to get to their respective countries. However, the memo goes on to say if they do carpool, they’ll have to quarantine when they get to their home city, which they have to do anyway. The team is only reimbursing players $1500 for return travel, so I’d share a charter if I was these players.

I’m not sure why players wouldn’t want to return to their home cities sooner rather than later since they will have to quarantine for two weeks before they can start practicing at the team facilities. The US has opened the border for professional athletes returning from Canada.

Small-Group Practices

So, the whole point of getting to an NHL city is to have access to training facilities, especially ice. Most of the players have had no access to ice since quarantine began. A few have been able to use frozen ponds or private facilities.

Once the players are in an NHL city, they can participate in informal skates and workouts of small groups. No more than six players can be on the ice at any given time. No coaches or trainers are allowed on the ice.

Coaches and trainers may be in the exercise rooms helping players. However, they must maintain social distancing within the weight rooms. If the room isn’t big enough to accommodate six feet between equipment for six players at one time, the group size must be shrunk down.

During the on-ice practices, players aren’t allowed contact. They’re also not allowed to do any weight training that needs a spotter. The groups of six must be consistent across Phase 2.

So, again, I have no idea why players wouldn’t return to their club cities. Why on earth would you practice with other teams’ players and staff when you could have access to your own?

Some fans wonder about the arbitrary number of six players. I think that number allows for the training staff in the weight room so that you’re not getting a group of people over 10, which is still recommended by CDC.

Anyway, players will only have access to the team’s facilities at given times. They won’t be allowed to go to any other facilities to train — so no going to DU’s surface here in Colorado.

Testing and Symptom Checks

The NHL is trying to be very careful not to take up more than their fair share of COVID-19 testing. So, all players and club personnel will be required to get tested two days before they can enter club facilities. They will also be tested twice a week for the duration of Phase 2.

Players (and personnel) will also be required to watch their own symptoms. They’ll be temperature-checked when they arrive at the facility and have to answer questions about their symptoms. Judging by how it works where I work, they’ll be asked about coughing, shortness of breath, and exposure to anyone known to have COVID-19.

Some fans think players will lie if they’re symptomatic because they lie about injuries all the time. People point to Sidney Crosby telling reporters he doesn’t have mumps while the side of his face is featuring a softball-sized lump.

Two things about that. One, players lie to the media about the state of their health, which is their right. I’m not sure they lie to team doctors, which is who would be responsible for this information.

Two, COVID-19 is serious business. No player is going to want to be the Typhoid Mary of the NHL, and I think clubs are going to make that extraordinarily clear to them. If there’s a COVID-19 outbreak that stems from the NHL, that’s the 2019-20 season done and maybe the 2020-21 season, too.

Social Distancing

Players will be required to wear face masks to and from the practice facilities and whenever they’re in common areas not practicing or working out. They’re not required to wear them on the ice or while working out.

Trainers and other personnel must also wear masks to and from facilities. They’re also required to wear them and gloves whenever they’re in close proximity to the players. All equipment will be heavily sanitized.

Players may not eat meals at the facility. Teams may provide individual food for them to take home. They may eat pre-packaged food at the facility. For the first time in hockey’s history, they will have sanitary drinking practices — they’ll have sealed water bottles with their numbers on them that only they may use.

Meanwhile, players and staff are strongly encouraged to practice strict social distancing outside of the club facilities. They’re not allowed to socialize within six feet of each other or others — which will be the first time the Swedes who returned to Sweden encounter social distancing.

Reaction to Phase 2 and Return to Play

More from Mile High Sticking

I continue to be baffled by fans who don’t want to see a return to play for the 2019-20 season. I’m firmly in favor of the return of hockey.

One complaint is that the players and staff won’t be safe. The world is opening back up — in Sweden, it never shut down. The circumstances of Return to Play are highly controlled and contained — much more so than in the restaurants and salons and retail stores where workers are traveling to every day. Even the cleaning staff will be safer because they’re only cleaning up after a handful of highly regulated people, not the general public.

Another complaint is how summer hockey is going to delay the 2020-21 season. That argument is dead in the water. If the NHL cancels the remainder of this season, the 2020-21 season is still not going to start on time not least because they won’t be able to have fans in buildings.

The NHL can make money broadcasting playoff games to a sports-deprived world. They’re not going to be able to make similar money with a new season of no fans in the building. It’s in their best interest to make what money they can now and delay the 2020-21 season until at least some fans can attend.

A lot of fans argue that this all seems like a money grab. No 💩. Of course it’s about the money! I had to return to work because my employer wanted to open back up, so they did so when they got the OK from the government. They need to make money, and so do I. So we’re out in the world together. (I’m lucky — my employer is right in the trenches with us.)

The NHL is in a precarious position compared to other leagues. Hockey is a niche sport, so it doesn’t generate as much revenue as more popular ones like football and baseball. They can’t afford to lose what little revenue they can generate with broadcasting the playoffs. Next season is going to be a squeeze for the cap anyway as it’s not going to grow and it may shrink even if they finish this season. And the players are going to have a helluva escrow payment as it is, even with the finish of this season.

Sure, none of those involved are going to starve or even miss a car payment most likely. However, sports is a business, and business is about making money.

Next. 24-Team Playoff Format. dark

Finally, all of the playoff-bound players want to return to play. Every single Colorado Avalanche player who’s done an interview has expressed the desire to returning to play the rest of this season. It should be as much up to them as possible.