Hockey is back on Monday (sort of)

New York Rangers players will be allowed to work out at team training facilities starting Monday.

The NHL announced that Phase Two of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan will begin on Monday, June 8 as long as teams have satisfied all  local health requirements as well as the protocols laid out by the NHL.  That means that New York Rangers players can use the team’s training facility in Greenburgh, New York on an informal basis and in groups of six or less.

Most important is that for many players, this will be the first time that they will able to put on their skates and get back on the ice.  Any players who returned to their homes in North America have not had access to skating rinks, while many players who returned home to Europe have been skating for weeks.

While this is an important step towards resumption of the hockey season, it still means that we are weeks away from the opening of official training camps when the entire team can report and scrimmage. There have been reports that the NHL is looking at July 10 as the date that they can begin Phase Three.

While Phase Two allows for players to utilize training facilities of the teams where they live if possible, it’s likely that Rangers players will be travelling back to the Metropolitan Area so they can use their own facility.  It would be safe to assume that many will be driving back since the NHL health protocol calls for a 14 day quarantine for any players who take commercial flights to get back to New York.

Whether any Europe-based players will take part in Phase Two is a question as they are already skating and would be subject to the 14 day quarantine since they have to fly commercial airlines to get back to the United States.

Getting the team back together will be a huge headache for all teams and it is something they must be working on already.

Playoff format

The NHL also announced the format for the playoffs when play resumes.  The qualifying round will be a best-of-five with the team with the better points percentage designated the home team in games 1,2 and 5.

They also said that any tie games in the round robin tournament among the “bye” teams will be decided by regular season points percentage, meaning no overtimes or shootouts in those round robin games.  One important note is that the seeding determined by the round robin will be in effect throughout the playoffs.

As for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all four series will be best-of-seven with the team with the higher seeded team designated the home team.  They will follow the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the seven game series.

Every round will be reseeded by Conference with the team with the best points percentage playing the team with the worst.     The exception would be the round robin teams whose seeding would be based on that mini-tournament.

With the round robin format for the top four teams in each Conference, there is no way to predict who the Rangers would play if they beat the Carolina Hurricanes.  The only given is that they could any one of the four teams (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia)  since the seeding will be by Conference and not Division.

Questions, questions, questions

The NHL is hellbent on finishing the 2019-20 season and awarding a Stanley Cup championship.  With the opening of Phase Two, they took a major step closer to doing that.  However, the NHL and the NHLPA are still negotiating the terms of the return to play.

The biggest question is when the qualifying round will take place.  At this point, it’s pretty definite that it won’t happen until August, meaning that the playoffs will run into October, meaning the 2020-21 season won’t start until December or even January, 2021.

There are already consequences to the fact that the NHL will continue to play its season when every other professional and amateur hockey league has cancelled the rest of this season and hope to start next season on schedule.   Consensus top draft pick Alexis Lafreniere has announced that he is thinking of playing in Europe in the fall since the NHL won’t be in action.

That kind of thinking has to be on the minds of Rangers prospects like Nils Lundkvist and Morgan Barron.  Rather than sign with the Blueshirts and be in limbo until the end of the year, Lundkvist could be playing top minutes in Sweden and Barron could rejoin Cornell in another effort to win an NCAA title.

No matter what happens, the late resumption of the season will wreak havoc on planning for the future.

The good news is starting Monday,  our own New York Rangers will be back on the ice getting prepared for their return to the postseason. That’s a definite.