The NHL and NHL Players' Association took big strides over the past week with the beginning of voluntary small-group activities at team facilities (Phase 2) and the announcement of July 10 as a target date for formal training camps (Phase 3), subject to an overall agreement on resuming play and provided that medical and safety conditions allow.
But there's one final hurdle to overcome after details for Phase 3 are determined and it's a big one: Phase 4 (formal resumption of play). Identifying the two hub cities for each conference won't be the main challenge. It's ironing out the logistics within those respective cities.
Here are the most notable questions that must be answered and agreed upon by both the NHL and NHLPA:
— If a player tests positive for COVID-19, what will be the protocol for both the player that contracted the virus and the league to prevent the disease from being further spread? NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in early June that players will be tested every day in the postseason but doesn't expect the league to halt if there's a positive test.
"We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we'll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test," Daly told the Associated Press. "It's expensive, but we think it's really a foundational element of what we're trying to accomplish."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman estimated between 25,000 and 35,000 tests will be needed over the course of the playoffs and each test has a $125 price tag. It will cost the league millions of dollars, but it's a necessity.
— Will families be allowed to join the players in the hub cities? This is a key question for players, with Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault being the most vocal about it in April.
“It really makes no sense, in my head, to distance myself for two months from my kid,” Danault said. “And I imagine it makes even less sense for those who would go far in the playoffs, who are on playoff teams right now. If a team goes to the Stanley Cup Final, it could be three to four months. It’s inhumane to do that, as far as I’m concerned.”
Sacrifices will have to be made by the players in order for play to resume, and it will likely require a lengthy hiatus from their families for teams that go on a deep postseason run.
"There's a belief that maybe things are going to be tighter than expected," TSN's Darren Dreger reported on the latest Insider Trading. "And maybe families, which was a big sticking point earlier in the discussions, aren't going to be allowed to visit until later in the playoffs, perhaps as late as the Stanley Cup Final."
— If a player refuses to play due to health concerns, how will the league handle it, especially if it's a star player? For what it's worth, NBA players that choose to stay home from the restart reportedly will not be punished by the team or league, but they will sacrifice pay.
— Perhaps the biggest question of them all: What kind of lives will the players have in the hub cities? Will they be restricted inside a so-called bubble? Can they have any interaction with the public? Will they be allowed to leave their hotel rooms during off-days? The list goes on and on.
There's no reason to believe the NHL and NHLPA won't come to an agreement on the final details of the formal resumption of play if health officials give the proper clearance, but it certainly won't be an easy negotiation.