We may not be closer to knowing exactly when the NHL will return, but some of the important details regarding the return to play have been further clarified.
On Thursday, the NHL announced an agreement with the NHLPA on the remaining details of the return-to-play format.
Following the qualifying round, featuring 16 teams, and the Round Robin, featuring the Top 4 teams in each conference, the teams will be re-seeded for the remaining rounds, meaning the top seed in each conference will play the lowest remaining seed in each round. It was also determined that following the best-of-five qualifying round that all of the remaining rounds would be best-of-seven series, the traditional format for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The only real remaining details are regarding hub cities and the official date of return to training camp and eventually game play. There are rumors that the league is preparing to announce an activation plan for Phase 2 of the four-phase return plan by the end of this week. Phase 2 would allow players to return to home facilities for on and off-ice training in small groups, but is strictly voluntary for players, who can choose to train closer to their homes until the start of Phase 3 when training camps begin. It was already announced that Phase 3 will not begin prior to July 10.
The announcement on hub cities could come later this month. When the league announced the return-to-play plans, Gary Bettman said that they could be looking at around a 3-to-4 week timeframe of making an announcement on hub cities, though nothing is firm at this point.
Of course, the main determining factor in all of this is the ability to protect the players and put their health first. The league wants to have daily testing available when games resume and teams are in the hub cities and are still exploring how to make that a possibility.
If Phase 3 were to begin on July 10, the belief is that it would be a three-week training camp, which would mean the games would not begin until at least August. Bettman commented on this last week, saying “realistically, if we're in training camp mid-July, that would be a good thing, and if we can be playing by the end of July or the beginning of August, that would be a good thing too. But if it has to slide more, then it'll slide." There are reports that the latest the league will play is Oct. 8.
While there is no indication that we are closer to a return to hockey than before, more of the details are out, indicating that more progress could be made in the days and weeks to come in an effort to complete the 2019-20 season.