Hockey fans are hungry for any tiny scrap of information about the NHL returning to play at one time or another, but at this point, solid information has been hard to come by.
It makes sense, of course. For something as unpredictable as a pandemic, making plans is a fool’s errand.
We’ve heard a lot about neutral site games, a condensed 2020-2021 season, and more wild ideas. The NHL hasn’t really commented on any of them, choosing to make its preparations silently.
But today, it threw its hat into the speculation ring with a joint statement with the NHLPA.
In the statement, both parties said that they “have not made any decisions or set a timeline for possible return to play scenarios.”
However, they did signal a possibility of moving to what they call Phase 2 of their “return to play” plan sometime next month.
Phase 1, which is the current phase, involved players self-quarantining and no team activities, mainly due to local restrictions.
In Phase 2, “players might return to small group activities in NHL Club training facilities.”
The parties did go on to say that those group activities would depend on what was going on in each team’s respective city at that time.
For example, if the league moves to Phase 2 on May 18 but Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker extends the state’s ban on large gatherings, the Bruins would be out of luck.
As far as a timeline goes, the statement went on to say that “provided that conditions continue to trend favorably – and, subject to potential competitive concerns as between disparately situated markets – we believe we may be able to move to Phase 2 at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May.”
The “competitive concerns” part is interesting, as it’s a wrinkle in this whole thing. If, for example, 29 teams play in states, provinces, or localities that have loosened restrictions but two teams are in states still shut down due to the virus, can the league really resume fairly?
All in all, this statement isn’t really much. At most, it’s a glimmer of hope for the restarting of the league; at the very least, it’s good to see that the league is trying to do this in as fair and safe a way as possible.