- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
The National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association have announced that formal training camps for the 24 teams resuming play will begin on Friday, July 10, if conditions related to the coronavirus pandemic allow it.
The league and its players are currently in Phase 2 of their “return to play” protocol, as NHL team training centers were reopened this week for small groups of players. Phase 3 is the opening of training camps, which are expected to last upward of three weeks. Phase 4, the restart of the 2019-20 NHL season with a 24-team postseason tournament, would then commence in August.
It’s expected the NHLPA will vote on both Phases 3 and 4 at the same time, rather than having two different approval votes. The players have approved a postseason format if the season is restarted, but have not yet approved an actual return to play this summer.
The NHL and NHLPA said the July 10 training camp date will happen “provided that medical and safety conditions allow and the parties have reached an overall agreement on resuming play.” The two sides have been negotiating the details for Phase 3 and Phase 4, including the location of the two “hub” cities that would house 12 teams each, medical and safety protocols, accommodations and whether players will have interactions with their families during their quarantined stay in the “hubs.” There are also collective bargaining talks happening between the sides in the ramp up to the restart.
The joint announcement on Thursday establishes a target travel date for players who are currently away from their home team cities. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said that upward of 17% of players are currently overseas, having left after the league paused its season March 12. Some NHL teams haven’t opened their training facilities because of a lack of demand from players, since many aren’t currently residing in their home cities.
The location of some training camps is contingent on players’ travel. The Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are all reportedly looking at training camp sites in the U.S. because players crossing the Canadian border would have to quarantine for two weeks.
“We’re going to wait until the hubs are selected before we make any decisions and we’ll make a quick decision once we know where we are going for the hub,” said Oilers GM Ken Holland to the Edmonton Journal.
The next steps toward training camps would be an expansion of the current training facilities capacity, according to Toronto Maple Leafs star John Tavares, who serves on the joint NHL/NHLPA return to play committee. Currently, teams are limited to having only six players at a time training on the ice, with no coaches or instructors present.
“It only makes sense that eventually the groups are going to expand here in Phase 2. To go from only seeing six guys and three or four staff members to possibly seeing 40 people at training camp doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, in the progression way of things,” Tavares said.
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