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NHL looks to open team facilities as early as mid-May

The NHL’s restart plan remains a speck in the distance. But with a spyglass or some binoculars, it’s starting to come into focus.

The league sent a memo Wednesday instructing teams and players to continue self-isolating with the hope that team facilities can open in mid-May. The self-isolation period expires Thursday, though it is expected to be extended.

“Given recent developments in some NHL clubs’ local communities, we are now looking ahead to a phase two of the transition period that would follow the currently recommended phase one period of ‘self-quarantine’ by players and hockey staff,” the league and NHL Players’ Association said in a joint statement.

“The precise date of transition to phase two, during which players might return to small group activities in NHL club training facilities, remains undetermined. However, provided that conditions continue to trend favorably — and, subject to potential competitive concerns as between disparately situated markets — we believe we may be able to move to phase two at some point in the mid-to-later portion of May.”

The memo provides a road map for a possible return after the season was paused March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the NHL and NHLPA denied it has made any decisions or set a timeline for a return-to-play scenario.

Players who returned home were recommended by the league memo to return to their club’s home cities in anticipation of phase two of the restart plan, according to TSN.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday he will extend Nevada’s stay-at-home order until May 15. It was set to expire after Thursday.

The governor said the state will begin easing some restrictions on curbside pickup for retail stores and some outdoor recreation activities, but it’s unclear how City National Arena, the Golden Knights’ practice facility, fits under the order.

The latest return-to-play scenario being discussed, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets, would see informal skates take place as early as May 15, followed by a training camp and possible exhibition games in June.

The hope is to then complete the regular season at centralized locations without fans in July and begin the playoffs in August before crowning the Stanley Cup champion at the end of September.

The NHL reportedly is prepared to start the 2020-21 season in December.

Should the league be forced to scrap the regular season and go straight to the playoffs, one possible proposal reported by Sportsnet could cause a stir.

Under that plan, the top six teams from each division would play best-of-three series at a centralized location. Critics have pointed out that the New York Rangers, who were two points back of the Eastern Conference wild card at the pause, would be left out of the postseason under that format and Buffalo would qualify despite having 11 fewer points.

But with revenue at a standstill, the league hopes to complete the regular season, which had 189 games remaining. The New York Post reported that expanded 30-man rosters would be part of a summer schedule.

The American Hockey League is expected to officially cancel its season next week, giving the Golden Knights several options for players to recall.

Patrick Brown, Jake Bischoff, Oscar Dansk, Nic Hague, Keegan Kolesar, Brandon Pirri, Gage Quinney, Garret Sparks and Valentin Zykov appeared in at least one game for the Knights this season. First-year pros Lucas Elvenes and Jimmy Schuldt also could get a look.

One issue the NHL-NHL Players’ Association’s Return to Play Committee will face is the prospect of players being quarantined away from family for several months.

Canadiens center Phillip Danault expressed his concern Tuesday during a conference call with Montreal reporters.

“It really makes no sense, in my head, to distance myself for two months from my kid,” said Danault, according to the translation from French. “If a team goes to the Stanley Cup Final, it could be three to four months. It’s inhumane to do that, as far as I’m concerned.

“But the league has to make a decision, and I imagine the players will have to vote on it, and I’m not sure they’ll be in favor of being away from family for two to three months.”

While everything is being sorted out, the NHL also must determine whether to hold its draft in June before the season is completed. The event originally scheduled for June 26 and 27 in Montreal was postponed.

The NFL’s virtual draft last week drew huge TV ratings, and the NHL would like to provide similar programming for its broadcasters despite facing pushback from general managers and a bevy of obstacles. A decision is expected to be made next week.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.

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