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Panthers president: NHL targeting July return

A.J. Messier / National Hockey League / Getty

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The NHL is targeting July as a potential return date as it continues to evaluate all options for resuming the 2019-20 season, Florida Panthers president Matthew Caldwell said on a conference call Wednesday shared by The Florida Channel.

"At least for the NHL, we're trying to target sometime in July and then when we feel that players are safe, we have enough testing, and have enough ways to get back on the ice, it's probably going to be contained to playing at four or five neutral sites, so that's all being discussed right now," Caldwell said. "My guess is that we would start with either limited fans or empty arenas.

"None of this has been finalized but this is the direction things are going."

What Caldwell means by neutral sites is unclear, as ESPN's Greg Wyshynski and Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman both reported earlier Wednesday that the league's plan to host games at non-NHL arenas has been abandoned. According to the report, the league is now shifting its focus toward two-to-four regular NHL cities where the coronavirus outbreak is contained and restrictions would allow games to be played.

The league's ability to test players for COVID-19 will also be paramount to its return, and commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly has plans to connect with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss potential testing options.

Another hurdle is the fact players have been self-quarantining in their own homes for over one month, and they haven't been able to skate or train to a degree that would keep them in game shape.

"I know for the NHL, our players are quarantined until the end of April, which will probably be extended into May," Caldwell said. "When we are able to come out from the quarantined period, players are going to need time to work out. I think all leagues are considering some type of mini training camp before the start of the season so that's going to take us into June."

Bettman said players will need at least two-to-three weeks of training camp before the season resumes.

The campaign was officially suspended March 12. All eight NHL players who tested positive for the virus have since recovered.

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