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The Path to Puck Drop

Latest timeline for NHL's return to play plan

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

The National Hockey League intends to resume play in the summer of 2020, with 24 teams returning to compete for the Stanley Cup.

The Carolina Hurricanes will be among those 24 teams and are slated to match up against the New York Rangers in a best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier, the winner of which will advance to the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

RELATED: WHAT THE NHL'S 24-TEAM RETURN TO PLAY FORMAT MEANS FOR THE CANES

That marks the fourth and final phase of the league's transitional protocol, but there are still hurdles to clear in order for the puck to drop again. It's important to note that, while a plan is in place, a return to play is not guaranteed; this is all contingent upon optimal medical and safety conditions - COVID-19 numbers, testing ability and government regulations all factor into decision making - and a formal agreement between the league and the Players' Association.

With that in mind, here is the latest on what we know about the league's return to play timeline.

Last Updated: June 30

Phase 1: Self-Isolation - COMPLETE

Since the 2019-20 season was paused on March 12, teams and players were instructed to self-isolate as much as possible.

Phase 2: Voluntary Small-Group Workouts - ACTIVE (began June 8, Canes began skating June 30)

The league transitioned into Phase 2 on Monday, June 8, allowing clubs to reopen their home training facilities to allow players to participate in small-group (limit of six players at one time) on- and off-ice training activities. This phase is strictly voluntary and is subject to various measures and requirements spelled out in the Phase 2 protocol.

After delaying their transition into Phase 2, the Hurricanes began voluntary skates at PNC Arena on Tuesday, June 30.

Phase 3: Training Camp - July 10

Formal training camps for the 24 teams resuming play will open on Friday, July 10, barring any unforeseen negotiation or pandemic setback.

It's unknown how long the training camp period will last - that's something that remains to be negotiated between the NHL and NHLPA. Canes President and General Manager Don Waddell said he envisions a two- to three-week training camp, plus one or two exhibition games once teams arrive in their designated hub city.

RELATED: STAAL, WADDELL REACT TO RETURN TO PLAY PLAN

Phase 4: Return to Play - TBD

The one target date not yet set is for resumption of play, as that's dependent on timing and length of Phase 3 and remains subject to approval by both the NHL and NHLPA. There are also decisions to be made on the two hub cities and medical and safety protocols that will need to be in place.

Assuming Phase 3 lasts around three weeks, Phase 4 could begin in early August.

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