Daily testing for COVID-19 will be part of the routine for players and staff when the NHL resumes play with the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which will begin Aug. 1 at centralized hubs in Toronto and Edmonton.
The NHL and NHL Players' Association said they followed the guidance of medical experts in formulating the protocols for Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL Return to Play Plan that the sides ratified Friday along with a four-year extension of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement.
By doing so, they believe they've come up with a framework that prioritizes the health and safety of the 24 teams that will compete for the Stanley Cup while providing everything they'll need to be comfortable in the hub cities: Toronto for the 12 Eastern Conference teams, Edmonton for the 12 Western Conference teams.
"I think there's a very good chance that the guys are going to be safer in the bubble than they are in the normal circumstances at home," NHLPA special assistant to the executive director Mathieu Schneider said Saturday. "If we didn't have that assurance from the get-go on these things, we probably would've never started with this process."
[RELATED: Edmonton, Toronto chosen as hub cities | Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule]
The process started after the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, with the League and NHLPA working together on the Return to Play Committee to figure out the safest way to complete the season.
The end result was the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which will have 16 teams paired in eight best-of-5 series and a round-robin among the top four teams based on points percentage in each conference to determine seeding for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The advancing teams will stay in Toronto and Edmonton for the first two rounds of the playoffs before the four remaining teams convene in Edmonton for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.
Among the reasons Toronto and Edmonton were selected as hubs was the lower number of COVID-19 cases in those cities and the surrounding areas.
"Going where we're going and having the hubs in places where there's less COVID-19 gives better access to testing, which we're getting from commercial sources and which we're paying for," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We wanted to make sure that we're not doing anything that takes away from medical means in the community, and we're comfortable that that's the case."
Video: Gary Bettman discusses return to play and new CBA
Players and staff will be tested every other day during Phase 3, training camps, which begin Monday. During the seven days before traveling to the hub cities on July 26 for Phase 4, the 52 individuals in each team's traveling party, including a maximum of 31 players, will be tested three times 48 hours apart.
After they arrive in their hub city, teams will be housed at Phase 4 Secure Zones, which will include hotels, restaurants, practice facilities and the arena, where exhibition, qualifier and playoff games will be held. There, individuals will undergo daily COVID-19 tests, symptom checks and temperature screenings.
"I think we have a good handle on a protocol," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said. "It's actually a protocol that was agreed to among the various professional sports leagues and run by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and it's gone to the White House."
Daly stressed that "one positive test shouldn't shut down the tournament."
"But obviously we have to be very cognizant of player health and safety, and if we have an outbreak situation, it turns into a different judgment at the end of the day," he said. "But there's no hard and fast numbers on that. That's more a sense of the medical professionals and we'll take our lead from them."
The NHL will continue to provide regular updates on test results without identifying the players or their teams. Teams are prohibited from revealing the test results of players. Beginning with the start of training camp, the League will also handle all injury updates in order to protect the players' privacy.
"Medical privacy is important in this process," Daly said. "Having said that, we understand as a league we have an obligation of some transparency with respect to the COVID virus in particular. So at least for now, we're going to maintain a policy where the League is announcing on League numbers and clubs are really prohibited from giving any information with respect to COVID test results and, for purposes of making the system work, any injury information going forward."