NHL training camps penciled in for July 10 opening date

AP photo by Gene J. Puskar / Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel celebrates after scoring against the visiting Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 16, 2019.

The NHL and the NHL Players' Association gave the go-ahead Thursday for teams to open training camp July 10 in the next step forward toward completing the pandemic-delayed 2019-20 season.

The league and the union have already approved a 24-team playoff format but still need to decide on testing and health and safety protocols, along with potential host cities for the games.

"I think safety's first and foremost," Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel said earlier this week. "I still think there's a lot to go into it."

Camps are expected to last two weeks, if not slightly longer. Under this timeline, exhibition games could begin as soon as July 24 with playoff games starting roughly a week later.

Setting a July 10 start for camps allows players to make arrangements to return to their home cities in light of quarantine regulations in Canada and the United States. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently 17% of the league's players were in other countries.

Players were allowed to resume small-group, voluntary workouts and teams could open their training facilities this past Monday. Groups of players began skating this week, while others were waiting for a firm timeline to ramp up for games.

"It's obviously not a typical schedule that we would be accustomed to," New York Islanders forward Josh Bailey said earlier this week. "This year you're not going to be going into training camp and the first game of the season. You're going into playoffs."

Under the format devised by the Return to Play committee, the top four teams in each conference advance to the round of 16 and play separate round-robin tournaments to determine seeding. The other 16 teams play best-of-five series, a group that includes the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference.