The NHL is set to take the next step in its resumption of the 2019-20 season in late July with the beginning of “Phase 2,” which will allow teams to re-open their facilities while allowing players to partake in individualized or small-group training beginning Monday.
For the Islanders and Rangers, it’s the first opportunity to shake the rust off that came with an almost-three-month wait that came when play was suspended on March 12 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s also the commencement of ramping things up for the playoffs, as both teams will be taking part in the league’s expanded postseason format that was approved to fairly decide a champion this season.
Based on point percentage when play was halted, the Islanders are the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference while the Rangers just squeaked in as the 11th of 12 postseason teams per conference.
They’ll partake in a best-of-five play-in series — the Islanders will play the No. 10 Florida Panthers while the Rangers meet the No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes — to advance to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which is usually the traditional opening of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Islanders, who train at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow, will be able to open their facilities following health and safety guidelines, but general manager Lou Lamoriello admitted that he is unsure how many players will want to participate in Phase 2 — at least immediately.
Roughly one-third of the roster lives in the area, but Lamoriello stressed that it’s a “very voluntary situation.”
As for the Rangers, it’s still unclear whether or not they will open their facilities in Greenburgh on Monday. A report from the New York Post on Friday suggested that they will wait until Tuesday to ensure they “conform with the testing regimen.”
Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, Adam Fox, and Brendan Lemieux are the only Rangers reportedly in the area, which could also mean attendance on the first day of camps could be sparse.
As a part of Phase 2 protocol, any players who travel by commercial air must quarantine for 14 days. The obvious loophole will be that players can drive back, but those overseas won’t be afforded that luxury.