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FILE - In this Feb. 20, 2020, file photo, Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith warms up for the team's NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Edmonton, Alberta. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Sunday, July 5, that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have agreed on protocols to resume the season. Daly said the sides are still negotiating a collective bargaining agreement extension. A CBA extension is still crucial to the process. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

NHL Finalizes Hub Cities, Return-to-Play Plan

Attention all hockey fans: it’s almost time to hit the ice. The NHL and its players association finalized their plans to resume the season.

In terms of location, the hub cities are no longer in question. Canada will host the remainder of the 2020 season; Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, are the two hub cities.

Return-to-play plan dates scheduled

Both the NHL and NHLPA agreed to the return-to-play protocols for training camp and the 24-team tournament. The two sides also extended the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) by four years. This helps the league to increase financial security during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Teams begin training camps in their individual cities on July 13. Provided that plans run smoothly, teams will travel to hub cities on July 26. Then, games will begin by August 1.

Each conference plays in a different hub city; the Eastern Conference in Toronto and the Western Conference in Edmonton. Also, Edmonton will host the Stanley Cup Final, probably in early October.

Melrose discusses NHL return

On Monday, ESPN’s Barry Melrose joined Steve Russell on Sportscene. In the interview, Melrose gave his insight into hockey’s return.

The 24-team postseason tournament begins with the qualification round of five-game series for the lower seeds in each conference. Melrose shared that hockey players prefer best-of-seven series and that a five-game series is a challenge.

Also, Melrose does not see any advantages for a particular team. He alluded to the fact that players who were injured when the season was put on pause have had time to recover. There is a level playing field for each team in terms of health.

“This is the healthiest playoff teams have ever been in the history of the NHL,” Melrose said.

Finally, the protocols allowed players to opt out of the rest of the season, free of penalty. However, this deadline has passed.

“I think if a hockey player was going to not play he would just have done that a while ago,” Melrose said. “I’ll be very surprised if the players don’t come out in droves and the vast majority of the players end up playing for the Stanley Cup this season.”

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