NHL to enter phase two of return-to-play plan

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Los Angeles (AFP)

The NHL is moving into the second phase of its reopening process on Monday by allowing players to return to their training facilities in cities where health officials permit it.

Players can now take part in small group team training sessions with up to a half dozen players at a time. The players can resume skating sessions but with no coaches allowed on the ice.

The league's new safety rules also state the players must wear face coverings in the facilities except when working out in the gym or on the ice.

Most NHL players haven't skated since the league shut down its regular season on March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced last week that the league would end its current hiatus with NHL resuming play in two hub cities.

The owners and the players also agreed Thursday on a 24-team playoff format for the postseason.

The format includes a best-of-five series for the qualifying round before shifting to the traditional best-of-seven series format for the remainder, including the Stanley Cup finals.

Following the qualifying round, all four playoff rounds will be best-of-seven series. The league and the players' union also agreed the playoffs would not follow the traditional bracketed format, but instead the teams would be reseeded again after every round.

"While nothing is without risk, ensuring health and safety has been central to all of our planning so far and will remain so," Bettman said last week.

"Let me assure you that the reason we are doing this is because our fans have told us in overwhelming numbers that they want to complete the season if at all possible. And our players and our teams are clear that they want to play and bring the season to its rightful conclusion."