Florida Panthers

When might the Panthers be back on the ice? The NHL is targeting mid-May — for now

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The Florida Panthers will have to wait until at least May to get back on the ice. The NHL released a series of updates to its COVID-19 policies Monday, and part of the new set of policies outlines a potential return date in accordance with the new Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

On Sunday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommended the suspensions of gatherings larger than 50 people for at least the next 60 days. Even without spectators, an NHL game would feature more than 50 people in one space, including players, coaches and officials.

“Our objective will be that, in addition to cointinuing regular updates, we will be able to provide high-level guidance on the potential of opening a training camp period roughly 45 days into the 60-day period covered by the CDCs directive,” the NHL said in a statement.

The 60-day window would end in mid-May and a potential 45-day window would put teams back on the ice for practices near the end of April or start of May. NHL teams could feasibly hold practices with fewer than 50 people in attendance because rosters max out at 23 players.

The NHL is still advising players to self-quarantine through at least March 27, although it is now giving them a bit more flexibility. When it suspended play Thursday, the league recommended players remain in their teams’ home cities as the NHL evaluated how long a stoppage might last. On Monday, the league granted players permission to return to their homes away from the teams, including outside of North America. When the quarantine period ends, the NHL will consider allowing small, coordinated groups practice at team facilities, like the Florida Panthers IceDen, which also shut down Saturday.

“Depending on world developments between now and then, consideration will be given to allowing the opening of club facilities to players in scheduled and coordinated small groups for voluntary training and care of the players on the same basis as in the offseason,” the league said.

On Friday, commissioner Gary Bettman told the Associated Press he remains “optimistic” the NHL will be able to award the Stanley Cup this season. The Panthers entered the break sitting three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

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