The first realistic sign Flyers hockey will return could come as early as Monday.
That’s when the NHL begins its Phase 2 Return to Play plan and teams can allow small groups of players into their practice facilities.
According to Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher, about six players are expected to attend an informal workout at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.
Unofficially, it’s the first time multiple Flyers players will be together on the ice since pro sports were shut down March 11-12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Philadelphia Flyers are opening up the team’s training facility at Skate Zone to our players for voluntary on and off ice workouts on Monday, June 8,’’ Fletcher said in a statement released by the Flyers on Friday.
“We expect approximately six players to initially participate with additional players to join in the coming weeks. We are pleased to offer our players the ability to train in a safe environment as we look forward to a resumption of our season in the near future.’’
Not all 31 NHL teams are expected to open their practice rinks. A few, such as the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets, do not plan to, in part, because of complications involving travel restrictions.
Obviously the Flyers’ workouts will be closed to the public and the number of staff personnel in the building greatly limited.
The NHL has made a great show of promising “daily’’ testing of all players once Stanley Cup postseason play begins perhaps sometime this summer.
But it is unclear if there will be the same degree of league-wide testing during this reopening period.
That might cause a little consternation among some players, given the news on Thursday that a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins had tested positive for the coronavirus and was sent home to quarantine.
According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, approximately 30 players privately have made it known they aren’t sure if they want to play in the 24-team tournament due to health concerns.
Of course, it’s only early June and that 30 number could go up or down, depending on changes in global health conditions.
Right now, as summer approaches, the virus is clearly in retreat. The other day New York City went without a virus-related death for the first time since early March.
In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, businesses are beginning to open again on a limited basis.
Still, for some, it’s very much a wait-and-see approach.
Florida defenseman Anton Stralman is one of the few NHL players who has had the bravado to publicly question a possible return.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Joe Smith, Stralman talked about the risk vs. reward such a competition would entail.
“I think you should be concerned,” Stralman told Smith. “There are so many ways to look at this thing. I know everybody wants hockey back, but safety has to come first. And it’s a little bit worrisome, I can’t deny that.
“Even though most players are young and healthy, I’m sure there are players like me that have underlying health issues. I don’t know how my body will react if I get this virus.”
The NHL says it will secure some 20,000 tests to make sure everyone in the tournament at two designated “hub’’ cities is virus-free. How the league can guarantee the same conditions for lodging, transportation, etc. remains to be seen.
Another issue yet to be resolved concerns whether players will be separated from their families for long periods of time.
Flyers NHL Players’ Association rep James van Riemsdyk recently said he’s been assured he will have in-person contact with his family during the playoff period and for him, that’s a pretty big deal. He just welcomed his first child, daughter Scarlett, into the world a month ago.
As for the structure of the tournament and the decision to go with four best-of-seven series after a round-robin (for each conference’s top four teams) plus a best-of-five for the other 16 teams, that seems like a lot of hockey, especially coming off a four-month gap without skating.
Remember, in a normal year, players have the option to skate on their own throughout the summer. For the past three months, public rinks have been shut down and all the players can do is basically dryland training.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see an inordinate amount of wear-and-tear injuries, this on top of players whose timing won’t be all that sharp.
That said, the first baby steps start Monday in a rink where it’s going to be 40-something inside and 80-something outside.