BostonBruins.com - On the heels of the National Hockey League's expansive return-to-play announcement, Bruins president Cam Neely expressed his pleasure with the steps being taken to resume the 2019-20 season at some point this summer after a nearly three-month shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Excited to at least get to the next phase where the players and owners have agreed upon a format on return to play," Neely said during a media conference call on Wednesday afternoon. "Hopefully soon we'll be able to get our facility open on a voluntary basis for the players to come in and use."
Commissioner Gary Bettman laid out the 24-team postseason format on Tuesday, detailing the plan that will include a round-robin sequence for the top four teams in each conference. With the Bruins finishing the regular season as the league's top team (44-14-12, 100 points), they have earned an automatic bye into the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They could, however, lose their top seed depending on their level of success during the three-game round-robin, which will also feature Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia in the East.
"Obviously a little disappointed," said Neely. "With what the team was able to accomplish in the first 70 games, and then kind of the point spread between not only the teams in our division but the teams in our conference, to kind of maybe have three games dictate where we fall in the conference standings is somewhat disappointing.
"But the fact remains these are unchartered times for everybody and we're just hoping we can eventually get back on the ice and play meaningful hockey games."
Regardless of where the Bruins fall when and if the Stanley Cup Playoffs commence this summer, Neely is confident they will be in a strong position, pointing to the team's veteran leadership and desire to finish off the job after last season's bitter ending as the main reasons to like Boston's chances.
"I know we've got a group of guys that are very dedicated and committed and obviously knew where the team was at the pause and what the possibilities were going into the playoffs," said Neely. "Nothing's a guarantee as we all know, but I think our guys recognized we had a legitimate chance to do well and make a deep run in the playoffs.
"Our goal all along is to win Stanley Cups. That goal is not gonna change. In talking to some of the guys, they're anxious and excited. Obviously, they still have some questions and concerns about how this is all gonna play out, but everyone still wants to play hockey."
Neely also complimented Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff for their hard work during the shutdown period, which has included wide-ranging video work and scouting of the B's potential postseason matchups.
"I know they have been preparing for playoffs in one way, shape, or form since the pause," said Neely. "I know they've certainly done a lot of video with the teams that we may face headed into the pause. I know that our guys are gonna be well prepared. There have been plenty of discussions…expecting everybody to be ready to go and understand what the coaches want once training camp hopefully does begin."
In the meantime, the Bruins brass is focused heavily on how to make sure Warrior Ice Arena is a safe and healthy environment for the players and staff when Phase 2 begins, which is expected to be sometime in early June. Extensive health and sanitation protocols will have to be in place when the players return for limited voluntary workouts - on and off the ice - of no more than six players.
"We're walking through it and making sure we have everything in place, from sanitizing to temperatures to making sure that the groups are spaced well enough apart so we can clean in between each group," said Neely, who also thanked Warrior Ice Arena and New Balance for their partnership and accommodations.
"It's groups of six, so we feel like, potentially, by the time we're able to go we could have three groups of six rotating, but we don't know the full extent of the numbers yet of players that will be here when we have ice up and running."
A number of Bruins who traveled home or to their offseason residences during the pause remain there and do not have to return to Boston for Phase 2. Their returns will be required once a formal training camp begins in early to mid-July.
"We're going through that list right now," said Neely. "We're connecting with the players, seeing what their plans are. Obviously, it's voluntary [right now] so we want to see when we can get the ice down. I think most of the players are interested in getting on ice right now because a lot of them have been off the ice for the longest [period of] their careers, probably the longest since they've been playing serious hockey.
"Once we can figure out when to get the ice down, I think you'll see more and more players trickle in. We still have a lot of guys that have stayed in the local areas, so getting back into the facility, getting back on the ice, I think our guys are itching to do that."
Neely said that testing will not be required during the voluntary training phase, but that temperature checks and symptom monitoring will be frequent.
"Testing is really gonna ramp up when we have enough testing to do what we need to do at the training camp level and at the playoff or play-in or round-robin level," said Neely. "We want to make sure that there's enough testing but not taking it away from those who may need it. Right now, we've got to be checking temperature. If there's any symptoms, then they can't be around other people or players.
"Testing in this phase is not necessary. We've got to make sure we're on top of how they feel and what their temperatures are."