NHL officials said Wednesday they will allow hockey skater entry into the 2018 playoffs as part of a new rule that is intended to keep the game safe.
The announcement comes as more than 1,400 hockey players, coaches and other professionals have been killed in ice-related collisions since March, and the number of people injured in them has risen from 3,931 to 6,972.
The league announced Wednesday it would start the process of allowing hockey skate players to enter the postseason this year, but that they must still have a season-long contract with a team.
It is the first time in NHL history that the NHL has allowed hockey players to be eligible for the playoffs, which began in 2019.
“The NHL believes the entry of NHL-affiliated athletes into the 2017 playoffs will help the integrity of the game and improve the safety of fans and players,” league spokesman Joe Dumas said in a statement.
“The NHL has long advocated for increased player safety, and we will continue to work with the players and their teams to make sure they are eligible to participate in this year’s playoff games.”
The league said it will require a year’s contract with the team that is playing for the postseason, and it would not allow players to play in the playoffs if they are on the roster of the team in question.
While the league does not currently have a clear policy for allowing hockey players into the playoffs this year because of the recent spate of high-profile incidents, the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ron Curry, said the NHL will soon have a rule in place that will ensure players are not allowed in the postseason for at least one season.
“We will be looking at that, and that will be the beginning of the rule,” Curry said.
But while the league will start enforcing the new rule, Curry also said the league would not be deterred by the number or type of high numbers of hockey-related deaths in recent months.
“It’s not a one-year rule, and there’s going to be no change,” Curry told reporters.
“We’re going to work on a rule that we think will be very, very strong, and will be enforceable.”
The NHL will allow NHL players to skate during games, but Curry said the rule will be in place during the regular season, so there is no cap on the number players can play during the playoffs.
Curry said the new rules will allow players who are eligible for entry into games during the season to skate, but not during the game.
Curry said he did not know how long the rule would be in effect.
He also said it was unclear if the league was considering imposing an additional rule that would allow players not on the team playing for them to skate at any time during the playoff games.
“We’re not looking to be punitive or anything,” Curry added.
Earlier in the day, the NHL also announced it would allow some hockey players from Canada to play at the NHL All-Star Game in St. Louis this year.
The league announced it will also allow some players from the U.S. to play on the All-Stars.
Hockey officials said they were surprised by the new restrictions, given that the game is already considered one of the safest in the NHL.
In recent years, several players have died in collisions while playing in the league, including two players who were killed in a single hit-and-run on the street in downtown Los Angeles in February.