Hockey is on the verge of coming back.
The NHL and the players’ association ratified its collective-bargaining agreement Friday and agreed to protocols to start training camps Monday and resume the season on Aug. 1.
Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said the parties agreed to a pact that “addresses the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, the framework for the completion of the season and the foundation for the long-term growth” of the league.
While some games will be played Aug. 1, the Flyers will open the Eastern Conference round-robin tournament Aug. 2 against best-in-the-NHL Boston in Toronto. The four-team tourney, which also includes Tampa Bay and Washington, will determine the top four seedings in the East.
The Flyers will face the Capitals on Aug. 6 and the Lightning on Aug. 9, and all of those games will be in Toronto.
The current CBA was scheduled to expire on Sept. 15, 2022 and has been extended to Sept. 15, 2026. The four-year extension includes a return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 in Beijing, and in 2026 in Italy.
With the ratification, Phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Play plan are ready to become a reality, bringing the NHL closer to its return. The season was stopped March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
During training camp (Phase 3), players and coaches will be allowed full activities on and off the ice while following preventative health measures, including enhanced coronavirus testing.
Bettman thanked both sides for getting a deal done.
“While we have all worked very hard to address the risks of COVID-19, we know that health and safety are and will continue to be our priorities,” he said. “We know that all of our fans are excited about our return to the ice next month and that has been our goal since we paused our season on March 12.”
At training camp, teams can have as many as 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goalies. The Flyers are expected to announce their roster Saturday.
The Flyers, who won nine of their last 10 games before the regular season was stopped and eventually declared finished, will start training camp Monday at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. The camp will be closed to the public, and a limited number of media members will be allowed to watch from upstairs but must conduct interviews virtually or over the phone.
On July 26, the Flyers will travel to Toronto, one of two hub cities being used for games, with Edmonton being the other. On most days, there will be three games at each site daily; the games in Toronto are expected to be held at noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. (The Edmonton games will be held at 2 p.m. ET, 6:30 p.m. ET and 10:30 p.m. ET.)
When play resumes, 16 teams will play in eight best-of-five play-in series to determine who goes into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Meanwhile, the top four teams in each conference, including the Flyers, will be in a seeding tourney and will also go into the playoffs.
In Phase 4, rosters are limited to 31 players, including goaltenders, and there will be daily coronavirus testing, symptom checks, and temperature screenings for players and club personnel
A maximum of 52 individuals per team are allowed in the secure zone, including players and the club’s staff members. Gritty, the Flyers’ mascot, is expected to make the trip. All 52 members will live inside a secure “bubble,” the league said, and any person who tests positive for the coronavirus will immediately be isolated.
The NHL announced that the Stanley Cup Final will begin Sept. 22 and will end no later than Oct. 4, which is the exact date the Flyers started the season in Prague. The conference finals and Stanley Cup Final will be held in Edmonton.
The league also said the draft will be held Oct. 9 and 10, and free agency will begin after the draft.