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Phases 3/4: How NHL Return Impacts the Flyers

On Friday evening, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association made a long-awaiting announcement: the return-to-play plan is official

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

On Friday evening, the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association made a long-awaiting announcement: the return-to-play plan is official. Both the NHL and NHLPA ratified an agreement for Phase 3 (formal training camp) and Phase 4 (resumption of games) of the plan as well as an extension of the current Collective Bargaining agreement through the 2025-26 season. 

Players who, for any reason, wish to opt out of participating in Phases 3 and 4 may do so without penalty. However, they must announce their intention to opt out no later than 5 p.m. ET on July 13.

Come Phase 4, the Flyers will travel to their designated "hub" city, Toronto. The team will remain there during round-robin games, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and, if the team advances, the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Thereater, if the Flyers continue to advance, the team would travel to Edmonton for the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final.

Before the first drills of Phase 3 practices and the drop of the opening faceoff in Phase 4, here's what Flyers fans need to know about the return-to-play plan for the 2020 postseason and how it will impact the team. 


Thus far, the Flyers players who have reported to the Skate Zone in Voorhees have engaged in small-group workouts on the ice. Coaches and hockey operations personnel, including general manager Chuck Fletcher, have been permitted to watch the workouts from the building's upper-level but no direct physical interaction has been allowed.

Come Monday, July 13, formal training camp will start at the Skate Zone. Camp sessions will run in Voorhees until the Flyers depart for Toronto on July 26. NHL teams may bring a 52-person contingent to "the bubble" (AKA "Secure Zone") in their hub city. Practice sessions will continue once in Toronto before the official start of Phase 4.

In many respects, Phase 3 will be a condensed version of a normal preseason camp. Coaches will be on the ice, running the drills: skating for conditioning recovery, systems refreshers, battle drills, etc. 

Here are some key points related to how the training camp will be conducted in light of the ongoing pandemic.

* Roster size: Excluding goaltenders (of which teams are allowed to carry an unlimited number), rosters will be limited to 30 skaters for the duration of Phases 3 and 4. Unlike a typical September camp, the Flyers will not make any roster cuts. The added players will function as "Black Aces", practicing with the team and available to be in the lineup for games if called upon to dress.  

The Flyers, like all of the 24 teams involved in the return-to-play plan, submitted a 30-man skater list to the NHL on Friday. 

* Covid-19 policies and procedures: During camp, players (and team personnel such as coaches and trainers) will be subject to daily temperature and coronavirus symptom checks, both at their home and at the Skate Zone. Covid-19 testing will be done on an every-other day basis.

What happens if a Flyers player tests positive? An individual positive test or a small number of overall positive tests would NOT automatically cause a halt to camp in Phase 3 or games in Phase 4. A large-scale Covid-19 outbreak might, cause cancellations, and all policies and procedures are geared toward minimizing that risk.

A Covid-positive player must self-quarantine until he is symptom-free (no fever, respiratory issues, etc.), tests negative at least two consecutive times and is medically cleared to rejoin the team.

As with every other NHL team, the Flyers will be required to issue a weekly report to the NHL describing the type of Covid-19 tests used, the number of tests performed on players, coaches and other personnel with direct player access and those with no direct access, as well as the number of positive tests. 

The NHL will then issue a league-wide report, which will not publicly identify either the names of players who test positive or the teams affected..This has also been the standard practice during Phase 2.

* No fan admission to Phase 3 practices. Before the pandemic, all Flyers practices held at the Skate Zone were open to the public and free for Flyers fans to attend. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, all NHL training facilities are closed to the public during Phase 3 training camp.

 * No direct media access to players or coaches. The media members who cover the Flyers will be admitted to the Skate Zone via a separate entrance from the players and team personnel. The media members must sign in as they enter and are subject to temperature checks before being granted admission.

During practice sessions at the Skate Zone, media members are permitted to observe and report on on-ice activities while observing from a secure upstairs location. Media members must wear a facial covering at all times when inside the facility and socially distance themselves from one another while working.

By NHL rule, there will be no media access to the locker room nor will there be any press conferences conducted from a podium. This applies to all media, whether their content is created for the team's information platforms or for other media outlets. There will, however, be daily remote access (such as via Zoom) to players or head coach Alain Vigneault.

Similar no-player-contact policies will also carry over through media coverage of Phase 4.


Between July 28 to July 30, every NHL team in the postseason will play an exhibition game in order to give players a chance to begin to recover their game legs and timing before the start of their round-robin or Conference quarterfinal qualification rounds.

Look for the Flyers, like all teams, to divide the goaltending chores in order to give work to both of their goalies. It's also a chance to work a bit on special teams and re-establish line chemistry under game conditions.

No exhibition game matchups or start times have been announced at this point. The specifics will be announced separately.


Both in Toronto's Scotiabank Centre (Eastern Conference hub) and Edmonton's Rogers Place (Western Conference hub), there will be up to three games scheduled per day. For the games in Toronto, starting times will be scheduled for noon ET, 4 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET.  

Starting times for specific games, including those the Flyers play, will be officially announced via a separate news release.

 As the second-place team in the Metro Division during the regular season, the Flyers earned the right to participate in the round-robin phase of the postseason, along with the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning. All four teams are guaranteed a spot in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, as there are no eliminations during the round-robin.

Rather, these games will determine seeding for the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Flyers cannot enter the ECQF as lower than the fourth seed, and could potentially go in as the No. 1, 2, or 3 seed depending on how they fare in the round-robin.

Both the Eastern and Western Conference round-robins will begin on Aug. 2 with one game apiece in Toronto and Edmonton (Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues). The Flyers' round-robin schedule is as follows:

* Aug. 2: vs. BOS
* Aug. 6 vs. WSH
* Aug. 9 vs. TB

In the best-of-five qualifying round, the fifth-to-12th ranked regular season teams in each Conference will play for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Losing teams in the qualifiers will go into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft lottery (with the first overall pick at stake).The winning teams will be reseeded, and the lowest remaining seed will play the team that earns the highest seed via the round-robin.

For example, if the Flyers were to finish atop the round-robin, they would play whichever lowest-ranked team remains from the qualifier bracket. If the Flyers enter as the 2nd seed, they'd play the 2nd-lowest remaining qualifier. Conversely, if the Flyers enter as the 4th seed, they'll have to play the highest remaining seed (such as the 5th-ranked Penguins if Pittsburgh knocks off 12th-ranked Montreal in their best-of-five series). 

During the round-robin phase, regular season overtime and shootout rules apply. Thereafter, typical playoff overtime rules (teams play 5-on-5 at full strength, unlimited sudden death OT periods until a goal is scored) apply for the rest of the postseason. In the event of a playoff game going multiple overtimes before it concludes, the starting time of the subsequent game(s) at that venue will have to be adjusted accordingly.

On Aug. 11, the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Quarterfinals will begin. Depending on the duration of the various series, the tentative starting date for the Conference Semifinals will be no later than August 25. The Conference Finals will start no later than Sept. 8, and the Stanley Cup Final will begin no later than Sept. 22 with a potential Game 7 being held no later than Oct. 4.

For the duration of each team's playoff run, they will live in a "Secure Zone" hotel, from which they will travel to and from the arena. Family members may join them in the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final. As with Phase 3, protocols for frequent Covid-19 testing and quarantine are folded into the Phase 4 policies and procedures.

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