Phase 3 is set. The NHL and NHLPA announced an agreement late Thursday morning to begin Phase 3 of the NHL Return to Play on July 10. The agreement is pending that medical and safety conditions allow for the camps to begin. The Pittsburgh Penguins will begin training camp at the UPMC Lemieux Complex.
As part of Phase 3, players will gather at team facilities. The generally accepted time frame between the beginning of Phase 3 and Phase 4 which are actual games, is expected to be close to three weeks, pending travel requirements.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic season pause, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman publicly said he believed a two-week training camp was sufficient. Then teams would travel to the NHL hub cities.
PHN reported Thursday morning that Pittsburgh and Columbus are the primary choices for the Eastern Conference, and there was buzz growing around the Pittsburgh bid.
“The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) announced today that formal training camps (Phase 3), for the 24 teams resuming play will open on Friday, July 10, provided that medical and safety conditions allow, and the parties have reached an overall agreement on resuming play. The length of training camp, and therefore the start date for formal resumption of play (Phase 4) will be determined at a future date.”
There has been great caution in the Canadian media, which has somewhat differed from the speed and precision with which the NHL has proceeded. As Phase 3 begins on July 10, the teams will participate in training camp for two weeks, then report to their NHL hub city for play.
Factoring two exhibition games, the games which count should begin by August, and late July games seem very reasonable.
What if a player contracts COVID-19?
It’s an important question. Fortunately, UPMC reports the severity of cases is dropping, and the players involved are young, healthy adults. The statistical chances for a severe impact on that segment of the population are nearly infinitesimal; the chances are approximately three in 10,000 per CDC statistics.
Several NHL players, including one Pittsburgh Penguins player, have already contracted the virus and is reported to be feeling well. And Bettman is on record as saying a few cases will not necessarily halt Phase 4.
In short, even if a player or a few players contract the virus, unless there is an outbreak, there isn’t a reason to stop the show. And those players are extremely unlikely to suffer significantly ill-effects. What could derail the process now is if a structural flaw in the process is found, which cannot be fixed.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is–all of the good news in the world isn’t enough to quell the fear which has taken hold. No one wants to be the rare exemption. So, the NHL and NHL will continue to work with experts in the field. Both the NHL and NHLPA consult with infectious disease experts.
As of Thursday morning, there were just over 2,000 cases of COVID-19 in Allegheny County, which also bodes well for Pittsburgh’s chances to be a hub city.