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May 26, 2020

What they're saying: NHL reveals plan; NFL eyeing June minicamps; NBA, MLB prepping for meetings

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman outlined their "Return to Play" plan on Tuesday afternoon.

Sports Coronavirus
54_Flyers_fans_celebrate_score_FlyersvsKnights_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

We could see this again before the end of the summer, minus the fans, of course.

UPDATE [4:45 p.m.] — On Tuesday afternoon, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveiled the league's plan to return to play and crown a champion for the 2019-20 season, and there was quite a bit to unpack.

For starters, there's the timing. According to Bettman, he doesn't envision the NHL moving on to Phase 2 of their return plan — meaning players can return to facilities for socially distant workouts — until early June, with sights set on Phase 3 beginning over a month later. Phase 3 would signal the start of an official training camp and practices, but Bettman said the powers that be "don't envision doing so before the first half of July."

After that, the league will move to Phase 4, which will be the playing of actual games. And Bettman said the NHL "anticipates playing over the summer and into the early fall."

So how will the NHL crown its champion? Well, that's where things get real interesting.

Bettman said for all intents and purposes, the regular season is now over and season awards can be handed out. The format for the postseason will be as follows:

•  There will be 24 teams (12 from the East, 12 from the West) split over two respective hub cities. Teams will be isolated in a hotel and will be able to travel with a limited number of personnel (50 total). There will also be comprehensive and constant testing for players, coaches and support staff.

•  The top 4 teams in each conference will play in a round robin to determine their seeding. The other eight teams will go head-to-head in best-of-five series, with the seeding and matchups being determined by regular-season standings. The winners of those matchups will face one of the top four teams depending on seeding.

•  From there, 16 teams (8 in each conference) will remain and the playoffs will go on as they normally do, except with all games taking place in the hub cities and the possibility that the first two rounds could be shortened from best of seven to best of five. One of the other things Bettman said that is still being examined is whether or not they'll re-seed or use a bracket format, as they have in recent years. 

The Flyers managed to climb their way to the fourth seed in the East before play was suspended, meaning they get to play in the round robin as a warmup with nothing to lose, and not have to be immediately thrust into a do-or-die series. They also have quite a bit to gain.

The bad new for Philly, however, is that their home city is not among one of the finalist cities for the Eastern Conference hub — which could lead to them being forced to play a rival who gets the luxury of playing in their home arena. That's an advantage even if fans aren't in the building. 

Bettman also outlined plans for the NHL Draft Lottery and gave several more updates on the league's plans during his virtual press conference. You can watch the full thing here.


FROM EARLIER

Fresh off a beautiful Memorial Day Weekend that served as a reminder of everything we've been missing during the last two-plus months of social distancing and self-quarantining, Tuesday provided another ray of sunlight for sports fans hoping to see their favorite teams return to action before long.

The German Bundesliga has brought live soccer back to our televisions and this weekend's The Match featuring Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Payton Manning and Tom Brady brought an even more entertaining version of televised golf into our homes to help the time pass. 

Now, it appears, we're actually getting close to the four major American professional sports returning to our lives as well. On Tuesday morning, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that pro sports teams are allowed to return to practice (and even competition), which is great news for the Sixers and Flyers, as both teams' practice facilities are located in the Garden State. 

Of course, neither team plays games in New Jersey, so a potential return date remains dependent on similar restrictions being lifted in other states. But there is serious momentum at the moment for sports returning across the board, as other leagues inch closer to deciding not only when, but also how a return to play may look. The NHL, for example, is expected to formally announce their plan on Tuesday afternoon (more on that in a bit).

So, with things finally trending in the right direction, let's take a look at what they're saying about when (and how) sports might make their return...

Mini steps for NFL

Charles Robinson | Yahoo! Sports

First up is the NFL, who have so far been the least impacted of the four major sports. Sure, teams should currently be in minicamps, but with the official start of training camp still two months away and the season another six weeks after that, they have the luxury of time the other three don't. 

And they got some even better news on Tuesday, with Charles Robinson of Yahoo! reporting that coaches could be allowed to return to facilities as early as next week, with minicamps following later in the month. 

With state governments eyeing an entry point for NFL franchises to resume offseason activities, sources tell Yahoo Sports that head coaches could return to team facilities as early as next week — with players potentially following in full-squad minicamps in mid to late June.

The sources told Yahoo Sports that if coaches resume their in-house work next week, minicamps including players could be scheduled as early as June 15 or as late as June 27, depending on COVID-19 data and whether a handful of franchises get a “go ahead” signal from state governments to resume full operations.

Resuming full operations and getting a minicamp scheduled would represent the league's biggest step to date toward keeping the 2020 NFL season on track for a regularly scheduled fall kickoff.  [sports.yahoo.com]

The Eagles are currently one of those teams still awaiting a "go ahead" from the state government, as Philadelphia still remains in the red stage of Governor Tom Wolf's return plan with a flip to yellow expected to come on June 5th. Pederson will likely have to wait until then before returning to the NovaCare Complex, unless they somehow get a special exemption from the state. Given how long it's taken the city to reach that point, it's worth wondering if they'll still have extra restrictions in place when players are allowed to return to the facility. 

As for the dates of those minicamps, Robinson also reports that there hasn't been a determine on whether or not that second floated date, June 27th, would actually result in training camp also being pushed back, a move that would have implications on the start of the preseason (and possibly beyond).

A second source added that June 15 and June 27 are the dates that have been identified as potential full-squad minicamp windows. It’s not known if a June 27 minicamp, which would be roughly two weeks later than normal for a final offseason minicamp, would ultimately push back the start of training camp in July. Any resumption of activities involving players would likely also have to come with a sign-off from the NFL Players Association, which has remained in constant communication with the league to weigh in on the structure of offseason activities.  [sports.yahoo.com]

Sir Charles '100 percent sure' NBA is coming back

Cindy Boren | The Washington Post

The NBA was one of the leaders among sports leagues when it came to handling the pandemic outbreak, especially after they were thrust into the spotlight following the dramatic way in which the league shut down in the first place, with two players testing positive for COVID-19 just before tip-off of a game. 

According to Charles Barkley — or, perhaps more accurately, his bosses a Turner Sports — the NBA will be back to finish the 2019-20 season in some way. That's what the Pro Basketball Hall of Famer said on ESPN Radio on Tuesday morning, even adding some details on where they'll be playing. 

“I do know this, talking to my bosses at Turner, we’re going to play basketball,” Barkley, an analyst on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” said Monday on ESPN’s “The Paul Finebaum Show.” “It’s gonna be in Florida and Vegas, or just Florida.”

The decision is coming soon, with states beginning to open up again. On Saturday, the NBA said it had begun “exploratory conversations” with the Walt Disney Co. to host a single-site campus for games, practices and housing for players and staffers at the vast ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.

“We’re gonna make a decision in the next week,” Barkley said. “I’m 100 percent sure we’re going to play. I know my friends in Major League Baseball are going to play. I think that the hockey league is going to play.

“I think the pro football and the college football, they have to sit back and see how it goes for us.”

The league plans to hold a conference call with its board of governors on Friday, and teams expect to be asked to instruct players to report to their home markets around June 1, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week.  [washingtonpost.com]

Also, can we pause for a second to laugh at how Barkley refers to the NHL as "the hockey league?"

The hockey league has a plan

The Canadian Press | TSN

On Tuesday — yes, it's been a busy day for COVID-related sports news — word came down that the NHL had a return plan ready to unveil to the public. We'll keep you posted on what commissioner Gary Bettman has to say, but TSN's Pierre LeBrun wanted to tell fans to temper their expectations about how quickly this plan will be implemented and players will return to the ice.

Even still, at this point just rumors of a finalized plan are enough to get people excited, even if the league is still in Phase 1 of its plan and seems quite a ways from full practices taking place. 

TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie reports that NHL general managers will get the details of the league's Return to Play format on a conference call Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET.

The National Hockey League Players' Association Executive Board gave the green light on a 24-team Return to Play proposal last week. An official announcement was originally expected to be made in the coming days.

The league released a memo Monday announcing it is targeting early June as the start date of Phase 2 of its Return to Play plan, including the opening of practice rinks for small, voluntary group workouts on and off the ice.

If the Phase 2 plan gets the green light, on-ice sessions will be non-contact and involve up to six players, who will be expected to maintain physical distancing at all times. Coaches will allowed to watch but not participate in skates or workouts.  [tsn.ca]

MLB still fighting over money

Corey Seidman | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Finally, one of the leagues that has had the most trouble figuring out the best way to return has been baseball. But with a meeting scheduled between the league and union on Tuesday, there's at a chance that things take the next step.  

Unfortunately, unlike the other leagues, baseball is still bickering over money and seem further than most from coming up with an actual plan that can get players back on the field and the season started. And the longer they wait, the harder it is going to be to get this money thing figured out.

Here's the latest from NBC Sports Philadelphia's Corey Seidman: 

MLB and the players' association are scheduled to meet today. Understandably, the players' union has, so far, been unwilling to accept another pay cut on top of what it thought agreed to in March with prorated pay. Team owners have been adamant that it is not financially viable to pay players a half-season salary with no fans in stands. From their side, the losses would be too steep and would affect future finances.

Will the sides reach a compromise? They have to. We saw again over the weekend how many Americans are starved for sports when 5.8 million tuned into the Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady golf match, a number slightly higher than The Last Dance documentary received...

The goal, when this is worked out, is still to hold Spring Training II in mid-June and open the season at the beginning of July. The closer we get to those dates without an agreement, the less likely it becomes that the regular season could start so soon. Players will need two or three weeks to prepare regardless of when a deal is struck.

It also looks increasingly likely that teams will stay within their own divisions. There would still be a good amount of interleague play between teams in close proximity to one another (think Yankees and Orioles for the Phillies), but the three-division, 10-team format idea is not as necessary if teams can play in their home states as opposed to just Florida, Texas and Arizona.  [nbcsports.com]


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