For the first time since the National Hockey League season was suspended on March 12, the Nashville Predators will be allowed back in Bridgestone Arena.
The NHL announced on Thursday that the league would transition into Phase 2 of its return-to-play plan, which will allow all teams back into their training facilities and players can begin individual workouts, beginning on June 8.
“Players will be participating on a voluntary basis and will be scheduled to small groups" with a maximum of six players and a small number of staff, the NHL said in a release. “The various measures set out in the Phase 2 Protocol are intended to provide players with a safe and controlled environment in which to resume their conditioning. Phase 2 is not a substitute for training camp.”
All individual workouts in Phase 2 are voluntary, which is good for the Predators since a number of players not currently in the city — Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros and Dante Fabbro, among others — electing instead to go back to their home countries during the pandemic.
Once the league transitions to Phase 3 — which would include training camps — all players would then be required to attend.
“I wouldn't necessarily be surprised if not every one of our players attended because… they just maybe want to wait a few more days to see how it plays out and just try to make the correct decision," Predators GM David Poile said last week. "[We want] anybody that is going to be at the arena at a practice to feel safe enough to attend and to participate. [We want our players] to be able to do their thing and get back into mental [shape] to be able to play hockey to the best of their ability."
The NHL also announced additional details to the return-to-play format for the playoffs which include:
- Qualifying round will be best-of-five series; all other rounds will be best-of-seven.
- There will be a “reseeding” for each round of the playoffs where the highest remaining seeds will face the lowest remaining seeds.
- “Home-ice” will be given to the higher seed in Games 1, 2 and 5 in the qualifying round and 1, 2, 5 and 7 in all rounds through the conference finals; the team with the higher regular season points percentage will get “home-ice” in games 1, 2, 5 and 7 in the Stanley Cup final.
The sixth-seeded Predators will face the No. 11 seed Arizona Coyotes in the qualifying round of the playoffs. The teams split their two regular-season meetings this year.
“This is as good of a format as anybody could come up with," Poile said. "It's not perfect, and I don't think you're going to find anything perfect into this situation, but I'm very pleased with the format.”
“I think our group will still be really hungry to start something and not focusing on anything other than how we finished off and then our coming together," center Ryan Johansen said two weeks ago. "We all feel good about ourselves."