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With the NHL season set to resume in a little over three weeks, the league has begun to finalize a plan for its bubble set up in two hub cities.

In an expanded postseason format, 24 teams will reportedly travel to Edmonton and Toronto to complete the 2019-2020 season and crown a Stanley Cup Champion in October. 

With speculations of how the NHL will complete its season brewing for weeks, the league created a 47-page document detailing how Phase 4 of its return will occur. The Athletic obtained a copy of this document and explained the extremely detailed rules and regulations.

Life inside the bubble remains a hot topic with the NHL finalizing its return-to-play plan and entering Phase 3 around July 13. 

From extremely intense testing protocols to elevator and water bottle regulations, here is what to expect from the NHL’s return.

Traveling parties

Similar to most bubble setups, the NHL will allow a limited traveling party to the hub cities. Each team is allowed 52 people in that party with no more than 31 players, three coaches, two athletic trainers, one team physician, one equipment manager, one massage therapist, one team psychiatrist/chiropractor, one team social media manager, one security official and one representative to serve as the compliance officer.

The new role of the compliance officer is tasked with certifying that the team complies with all Phase 4 protocol daily.

Every member of the traveling party as well as every staff member at the arena or in the bubble is assigned to a participant group based on their responsibilities. The participant groups determine how much contact they have with others and how strict their testing must be.

 

Group 1: Essential personnel to games being played

  • Who: Players, club personnel, on-ice officials, NHL hygiene officers, club compliance officers, locker room attendants, locker room security, facility compliance staffers, hotel conference service managers, world feed microphone staffers, event-level NHL staffers (social media, tech ops, penalty box officials, communications, hockey ops, player safety, NHL Studios), NHL staffers, NHLPA staffers, NHL event medical directors and those with the RT-PCR testing company.
  • Contact: These individuals will maintain close contact with one another but should have limited exposure to players.
  • Housing and testing: Group 1 will be housed in a secure-zone hotel with daily testing and temperature checks.t6

Group 2: Individuals with business functions

  • Who: Off-ice officials, credential staffer, certain hotel staffers and event coverage medical staffers
  • Contact: These individuals will not have access to player spaces. 
  • Housing and testing: Group 2 will also be housed in a secure-zone hotel and require daily testing and temperature checks.

Group 3: People with repeated contact with Groups 1 and 2 but for short durations

  • Who: Security, some event coverage medical staff, bartenders, food servers and ice crew
  • Contact: Group 3 is allowed limited contact with Groups 1 and 2.
  • Housing and testing: They will be housed in a separate hotel, may return home but will be tested and undergo temperature checks daily.

Group 4: Those with limited exposure to Groups 1-3

  • Who: Arena food and beverage workers, PA announcer, housekeepers, kitchen and prep staff and transportation staff
  • Contact: Group 4 will have very limited contact with the first three groups.
  • Housing and testing: They will also be housed in a separate hotel or at home and will undergo daily COVID-19 tests and temperature checks.

Group 5: No contact with any other group member

  • Who: Third-party vendors, other arena staff, other hotel staff, fire marshal, police and media
  • Contact: Group 5 is not exposed to any other group.
  • Housing and testing: They will be housed in a separate hotel or at home. They will not require coronavirus testing but will have daily temperature checks.

Finally, the NHL acknowledged that the bubble makes it difficult to players to support their families at home, so each team will assist in providing grocery and errand delivery services to their remaining family members at home. As needed, the league will also provide medical services like COVID-19 testing to players’ families.

Testing

Testing in the bubble will be done very regularly and thoroughly. Players, coaches, arena staff, hotel housekeepers and bartenders as well as many others may be tested daily. The league expects it may exceed 2,000 tests per day.

If players experience symptoms, they must immediately self-quarantine and contact a team doctor to undergo testing. If a player tests positive but is asymptomatic, they will receive an RT-PCR test to confirm the diagnosis. If positive, they will be expected to self-isolate until cleared. If negative, they must remain in isolation before they can be retested a day later. A person who tests positive and is symptomatic won’t be subject to additional tests unless a physician has reason to doubt the results.

If a player tests positive, they must show two negative tests to be deemed clear. Doctors must also declare players fit to return to game action.

Once a player tests positive, a contact-tracing investigation will immediately begin. Anyone who was in contact with that individual for 15 minutes or longer at a distance of six feet or less will have to self-isolate until further testing can be conducted.

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Safety precautions and hygiene in the secure zone

The NHL established a number of safety precautions and regulations within the secure zone and while at games. All members are expected to remain six feet apart at all times, including on planes and busses and while eating. Masks must be worn at all times except for when on the ice, coaches on the bench, broadcasters on air, officials during a game, players during an interview, while eating or drinking or while in someone’s own room. The league also advised players to wash hands regularly and be cautious with high-fives and fist bumps.

Within the secure zone, every player gets their own room and no guests are allowed in those rooms besides housekeepers and engineers. Family members who enter the bubble will be given their own room and must satisfy testing and quarantine requirements if they wish to reside in a player’s room. Every team will have its own floor.

The league also said elevator capacity must be limited and advised players not to use their fingers when pressing the buttons but rather their knuckles or elbow. Talking is prohibited in elevators.

 

Dining will be done in a buffet-style with plexiglass barriers separating servers from players. Players can also use contactless room service if preferred. 

While lobby and bar spaces will remain open, the NHL remarked that details for social activities will be provided closer to Phase 4 but cited the importance of mental health in that section.

In terms of in-game hygiene, water bottles cannot be shared, must be labeled and separated on the bench. Towels may not be shared either, and teams must have a minimum of 100 clean towels on the bench. Benches must be disinfected between periods.

Leaving the secure zone

Unlike other proposed bubble setups, the NHL is allowing its players to leave and return to the secure zone under certain circumstances. A player may leave if he is receiving a medical assessment or retrieving medical supplies, if he needs a consultation with a doctor of his choice or under extenuating circumstances like the birth of a child, family illness, death or another important event.

If anyone leaves, they must undergo four consecutive negative PCR tests over a four-day period and be quarantined until that happens to return. 

Penalties for noncompliance

The penalties for not complying to these regulations are severe. For players, they can face a strict quarantine for 10-to-14 days if they do not obey hygiene regulations. Teams can face fines or lose a draft choice. Third-party vendors can face contract termination. And NHL staff could face dismissal.

Opting out/cancelation

Once the league ratifies the protocol, players must notify the NHL within three days if they plan to opt out of the season. Throughout Phase 4, the NHL or NHLPA may contact the other at any point if it believes games should be canceled, postponed, delayed or moved for safety reasons.

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