The National Hockey League has been pushing forward relatively aggressively with its planned return to play for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs and it has become more and more apparent that not everyone is onboard with that strategy. On Monday Sportsnet's NHL insider Chris Johnston reported that the NHL was moving to the next stage of "Phase 2," expanding the number of players that will be allowed to train together at any given time, presumably in preparation for the mini camp that each team will engage in.
Effective tomorrow, the NHL will allow Phase 2 groups to be expanded to 12 players for on-ice sessions. Those had been limited to six skaters apiece since small-group workouts began in team facilities on June 8.
It certainly is somewhat of a surprising move given that the NHL has been hit with a sudden outbreak of positive test for COVID-19. Things have been so bad on some fronts for the league that teams have been forced to shut down their facilities entirely due to a high volume of positive test in their respective locker rooms. One team that has been forced to deal with this issue has been the Tampa Bay Lightning and it is perhaps for that reason that Lightning captain Steven Stamkos took to social media on Monday to openly question the NHL's decision.
Now it is impossible to read too much into this given that all Stamkos sent out in response to Johnston was a thinking emoji, but I feel it is safe to say that the veteran forward does not agree with the decision to expand the practice rosters. Stamkos and his teammates won't be able to reap the benefits of that decision, potentially putting them at a competitive disadvantage come playoff time, but that is far from the only issue that could arise from this. It may just be that Stamkos, a player on a team that has a high number of positive tests for the potentially deadly virus, is merely worried about his health, the health of his teammates, and that of his peers in the National Hockey League.
I won't be surprised if more players speak up in the coming days and weeks.