NHL teams are preparing to begin limited workouts with small groups at their team facilities this week, the start of Phase 2 of the Return to Play Plan.
"Having access to the rink and the ice and being around teammates again is a big deal," Tampa Bay Lightning forward Blake Coleman said Friday. "Talking to the guys, everybody is excited to get back out there. … I'm itching to get back. I'm sure a lot of guys are. I know that when you have that extra motivation to come back, there's a lot more energy in the room and a lot more excitement around the games as well."
The NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus and facilities were closed. The League announced Thursday that beginning June 8, teams will be permitted to reopen their training facilities in their city to allow players to participate in individualized training activities (off-ice and on-ice). Players will be participating on a voluntary basis, and workouts will be limited to a maximum of six players at any time, plus a limited number of staff.
"Every bit of homework has been done including provinces, governments, states, counties, so that the comfort of going into it from my perspective is positive because we're not going into something quickly," New York Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "The date was not put down as a target. It was only going to be done when everybody was comfortable doing it. So I'm comfortable."
Video: Bettman on Return to Play: Full Q and A
All teams must adhere to the Phase 2 Protocol that was released by the NHL and NHL Players' Association on May 25. The 21-page document is intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment to resume their conditioning.
Phase 3, which would be the opening of training camps, will not start before July 10, the NHL has said. A date for Phase 4, which would be the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers leading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, has not been determined.
Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said Wednesday teams have "no playbook" from the past to refer to entering Phase 2 because of the unique issues related to the pandemic in Canada, the United States and Europe.
"I agree with Kyle, we're going into certainly something different," Lamoriello said. "But what the League and the [NHLPA] have done is done as much preparation and as much research as possible and have consulted with the professionals, whether it be the infectious disease people, the medical people, the testing people."
Dubas said about 13 Maple Leafs players remained in Toronto during the pandemic and four or five have returned to the city and are undergoing their 14-day quarantine. Lamoriello, who said the Islanders should have a better idea by Sunday how many of their players might take part, said that there is no pressure for anyone to participate if they have anxieties or concerns about coming back right away.
"We have approximately, I'd say, a third of the players in the area," Lamoriello said. "But once again, it's a very voluntary situation. I'll be speaking to each and every one of them over the weekend. Everything has been satisfied for the players of what they had to do in preparation for it as far as the testing (for COVID-19).
"When they're comfortable to come back, that's when we'll be ready for them. If they decide that it's a little later, so be it."
The decision when to open a facility will be made by the individual teams. The Islanders will start Phase 2 on Monday; the Washington Capitals, among others, haven't announced when they will begin.
"I think the biggest challenge is going to be the limited amount that you're able to stay at the rink or coaching and that kind of thing," Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said. "That's going to be something we're going to have to play by ear. To be honest, I'm just kind of rolling with the punches right now. Whenever they tell me I can go on the ice, I'll do the best to be safe and everything to get back on and go from there."
NHL.com deputy managing editor Brian Compton and staff writers Tom Gulitti and Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report