The NHL and NHL Players’ Association gave the go-ahead Thursday for teams to open training camp on July 10 in the next step forward toward completing the pandemic-delayed season.
The league and union have already approved a 24-team playoff format but still need to decide on testing and health and safety protocols along with potential host cities for the games. This is no guarantee hockey is coming back amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we have to be pretty cautious about that,” Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said Thursday. “Hopefully, the owners and the commissioner and the players can all work out a deal that’s fair for everyone, and the players feel safe enough to come back and get back into some sort of normalcy here.”
Camps are expected to last two weeks, if not slightly longer. Under this timeline, exhibition games could begin as soon as July 24 with playoff games starting roughly a week late.
Setting a July 10 start for camps allows players to make arrangements to return to their home cities in light of quarantine regulations in the U.S. and Canada. Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently 17% of the league’s players were overseas.
“It’s obviously very helpful having the dates,” Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “To go that long without any news or hard information in terms of a start time, it is tough, but I think it’s rolling now and hopefully now we can keep going in the right direction.”
Players were allowed to resume small-group, voluntary workouts and teams could open their training facilities Monday. Groups of players began skating this week, while others were waiting for a firm timeline to ramp up for games.
Under the format devised by the Return to Play committee, the top four teams in each conference advance to the round of 16 and play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding. The other 16 teams play best-of-five series.
“It’s obviously not a typical schedule that we would be accustomed to,” New York Islanders forward Josh Bailey said earlier this week. “This year you’re not going to be going into training camp and the first game of the season. You’re going into playoffs.”
In Canada, British Columbia Premier John Horgan said the province and its top doctor have approved a proposal for the NHL to make Vancouver a possible hockey hub city during the pandemic.