The NHL took steps toward returning to action by allowing facilities to reopen on June 8 as part of the league's Phase 2 plans. However, the return to workouts also brought about a series of positive COVID-19 tests. The NHL revealed on Monday that 26 players have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The league confirmed that 250 players reported to club facilities since June 8 and were tested more than 1,450 times. Of these players, 15 tested positive for the coronavirus. Another 11 players "outside of the Phase 2 protocol" also tested positive. "All Players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols. The NHL will continue to provide regular updates on the number of tests administered to Players and the results of those tests," the league said in a statement.
The league initially halted the season in mid-March alongside the NBA due to rising coronavirus concerns. League commissioner Gary Bettman had intentions of bringing teams back for an altered season and announced a Return To Play Plan in late May. This plan included an expanded playoff featuring 24 teams as opposed to the traditional 16.
The league and the players approved this plan and the altered format, but the NHL Players' Association still needed to accept the return to play. Additionally, the NHL needed to determine which two cities would serve as the hubs for the return to action. Bettman said the games would take place in empty arenas due to the coronavirus concerns. The potential cities listed at the time were Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Vancouver.
If the NHL does return to action, the top four teams in each conference will play in a separate round-robin tournament to determine seeding in the first round. The remaining 16 teams will play a best-of-five play-in series, which will decide which teams advance to the traditional 16-team playoff bracket. At the time of the postponement, the Boston Bruins were the top team in the league with 100 points. Right behind them was the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues with 94 points.
NHL fans have expressed a desire to see hockey return in some form before the end of the year, but the latest coronavirus tests have potentially wrecked the plan. Several players will now need to remain in isolation while recovering while the teams assess their safety procedures. The league will continue testing players while providing updates about the number of cases.