Play­offs will break new ground

COVID-19 pro­to­cols put a dif­fer­ent twist on hockey’s restart

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - MIKE BREHM Twit­ter: @ByMikeBreh­m

The Stan­ley Cup play­offs are al­ways un­pre­dictable, and now a vari­able is be­ing tossed in — a global pan­demic.

The league, which went on hia­tus March 12 be­cause of the coro­n­avirus, is ready to move to Phase 3 of its re­turn when train­ing camps open Mon­day.

If all goes well, 24 teams will re­port to hub cities in Toronto and Ed­mon­ton on July 26, the play­off qual­i­fy­ing round will start Aug. 1 with five games and the Stan­ley Cup will be awarded as late as Oc­to­ber.

Test­ing, so­cial dis­tanc­ing and hy­giene will be the most im­por­tant de­fen­sive sys­tems to make sure it’s car­ried off.

“We’re all liv­ing day-to-day here, and we’ll see what hap­pens,” NHL deputy com­mis­sioner Bill Daly said Saturday dur­ing a Zoom call. How the tour­na­ment will work: In train­ing camps, teams will be lim­ited to 30 skaters, plus an un­lim­ited num­ber of goalies. Play­ers and other club and fa­cil­ity per­son­nel were to be tested 48 hours be­fore they ar­rived and then will be tested ev­ery other day. Tem­per­a­ture checks will be done be­fore any­one can en­ter a fa­cil­ity.

If play­ers show COVID-19 symp­toms, they will self-iso­late and be tested. Asymp­tomatic play­ers also will self-iso­late if they test pos­i­tive and must have two neg­a­tive tests 24 hours apart be­fore re­turn­ing.

Play­ers also are be­ing asked to limit their pub­lic ac­cess off-ice be­fore head­ing to the hub cities to avoid the chance of ex­po­sure. The NHL last week said that 23 of 296 play­ers tested dur­ing vol­un­tary work­outs were pos­i­tive, a 5% rate. An­other 12 had tested pos­i­tive since March.

“You need to make your in­ner cir­cle pretty darn small be­cause what you do af­fects ev­ery­body else,” Hur­ri­canes for­ward Justin Wil­liams said in a re­cent Zoom call. “That’s pretty much the ba­sis of what a team is any­way. You’re only as strong as your weak­est link. But at this point, your weak­est link can take down your whole team.”

Play­ers have un­til Mon­day to opt out. Flames de­fense­man Travis Ha­monic has done so, as have the Stars’ Ro­man Po­lak, the Canucks’ Sven Baertschi and the Oilers’ Mike Green.

Once in the hub cities, ros­ters will be 31 play­ers and teams can bring a to­tal of 52 peo­ple. Play­ers will get a floor of a ho­tel. No one can leave the hub ex­cept for a med­i­cal ap­point­ment or a fam­ily emer­gency. Quar­an­tine will be re­quired when re­turn­ing.

No fans are al­lowed. No fam­ily can show up un­til the con­fer­ence fi­nals, which will be held in Ed­mon­ton. Me­dia in­ter­ac­tion with play­ers and coaches will be by Zoom. Play­ers will be tested daily.

“One pos­i­tive test shouldn’t shut down the tour­na­ment, but ob­vi­ously we have to be very cog­nizant of player heath and safety, and if we have an out­break sit­u­a­tion, that turns into a dif­fer­ent judg­ment,” Daly said. “But there’s no hard and fast num­bers on that.”

On the ice, four bye teams will play a round robin to de­ter­mine seed­ing at the top of each con­fer­ence, while the re­main­ing eight teams per con­fer­ence will play a best-of-five se­ries.

The break­down:

EAST­ERN CON­FER­ENCE (Toronto)

Bye teams: Bru­ins, Cap­i­tals, Fly­ers, Light­ning.

Qual­i­fy­ing round: Rangers vs. Hur­ri­canes; Pan­thers vs. Is­lan­ders; Cana­di­ens vs. Pen­guins; Blue Jack­ets vs. Maple Leafs.

WESTERN CON­FER­ENCE (Ed­mon­ton)

Bye teams: Blues, Avalanche, Stars, Golden Knights.

Qual­i­fy­ing round: Black­hawks vs. Oilers; Wild vs. Canucks; Coy­otes vs. Predators; Jets vs. Flames.

Teams will be re­seeded af­ter the qual­i­fy­ing round, and the first round will be­gin Aug. 11. The sec­ond round ten­ta­tively will start Aug. 25, the con­fer­ence fi­nals Sept. 8 and the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal on Sept. 22.

NHL Play­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Don­ald Fehr said he be­lieves play­ers will ad­just to the un­usual sit­u­a­tion be­cause they’re pro­fes­sion­als.

“They adapt to what­ever the world throws at them: a new coach, an in­jury ... a new op­por­tu­nity, an ill­ness, what­ever it is,” he said on the joint call with the NHL.

The draft will be held Oct. 9-10, around the time the next sea­son usu­ally starts. NHL com­mis­sioner Gary Bettman said he plans to have a full 2020-21 sea­son, even if it has to run later than usual.

GETTY IMAGES

Kirby Dach (77) will see a lot more of Con­nor McDavid when the Black­hawks and Oilers meet in the qual­i­fy­ing round.

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