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Regal Rundown: Could rash of positive tests delay Return to Play?

The training camp date currently remains unchanged.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL is in the midst of Phase 2 of its Return to Play plan, but now faces its most severe roadblock to resuming the season. 11 of 200 players have tested positive for the coronavirus, and a sufficient number of Tampa Bay players and personnel have tested positive such that the Lightning have closed their practice facilities. Florida has experienced repeated spikes in positive test rates, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by other leagues.

The league expected a certain number of players to test positive when it created the Return to Play protocols; what that number is remains unknown, but clearly Gary Bettman and the league brass are confident enough in the safety procedures to continue with the plan. Training camp (a.k.a. Phase 3) is still scheduled to begin on July 10.

The players, as reported by The Athletic, are not happy with this decision:

Several NHL player agents surveyed by The Athletic this week indicated that more and more of their players are troubled by the idea of returning to play in a hub city environment. One prominent agent estimated that 35 to 40 percent of players were on the fence. Another suggested it was even higher than that.

A reminder that the players have not yet voted to approve the final two phases of the plan, and this could change their thinking. The players have received most of their salary for this season, and the playoffs don’t project to bring in a sizable amount of money considering the lack of gate revenue. However, some players are worried about negotiating a new CBA after a canceled postseason, which could be a motivating factor to pass the vote.

There were already concerns about the bubble set-up before these positive tests, including time spent away from families and injuries about extended time away from the ice. The NHL may be moving full steam ahead, but the players don’t appear to be as firmly on board as they were a week ago.

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