The Tampa Bay Lightning shut down its training facilities after three players and an unspecified number of its staff members tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the team announced Friday on its verified Twitter account, leaving in question the NHL’s ability to proceed with its Return to Play plan while safeguarding the health of players, coaches, staffers and those with whom they come in contact.
In addition, the Toronto Sun reported Friday that Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews had tested positive for the coronavirus while at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and that an unspecified number of Arizona Coyotes players who had been working out with him also tested positive. Florida and Arizona are among the states that recently have experienced spikes in reported COVID-19 cases.
The NHL is in Phase 2 of its outlined plan to finish the 2019-20 season. At this stage, players are permitted to work out at team facilities in small groups after they undergo testing for the coronavirus and as they maintain social distancing. The opening of full training camps, which would constitute the start of Phase 3, is scheduled to begin on July 10.
The name of Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois was appended to the tweet that confirmed the positive tests among the team’s players and staff members. It reads:
“We have learned that three players and additional staff members have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Those players have been self-isolating following [Centers for Disease Control] protocols and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever. Those who have been in contact with those individuals have been notified. The Lightning continue testing and are strictly following all NHL and government procedures as part of the league’s Phase 2 guidelines. Upon receiving positive tests [on Thursday], team training facilities were immediately closed with all players and staff being sent home. Those facilities will remain temporarily shut down until we can ensure a safe environment.
“The Lightning are steadfast in doing all that we can to ensure the health and safety of our players, staff, fans and the community. With a significant rise in cases in the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County and the State of Florida we are imploring everyone in the Bay Area, especially young people, to help slow the spread of this pandemic by diligently following the recommendations of government officials by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and continuing to wash their hands regularly. We need to work together as a community to slow the spread.”
The NHL paused play on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, it has reached agreement with the NHL Players’ Assn. on some aspects of a resumption of play that will feature a revised, 24-team playoff format and would take place in two hub cities without fans in the arenas. No date has been set for play to resume, but even before the latest positive test results it was expected that play wouldn’t begin before late July or early August.
The league is expected to disclose the two playoff hub sites next week. Los Angeles is among the 10 finalists. The host bids of Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver were helped when a Canadian government official told the Canadian Press that the country would waive the 14-day quarantine requirement for visitors to Canada because health authorities in the three cities approved plans to create a “cohort quarantine,” or keep NHL players and necessary personnel separate from the general public.