“As we seek some return to normalcy, this is an important day for NHL fans,” Bettman said of the Return To Play Plan. “Since March 12, we’ve been hopeful and optimistic that by developing all options and alternatives, we could get to this point. I know I join sports fans everywhere when I say we cannot wait for the players to hit the ice again.”

“There’s an ongoing ‘if’ question. But you have to do this in stages,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said. “There’s never been any dispute that this can’t go forward unless the health and safety of everyone involved is protected.”

The NHL will now move on to a 24-team, conference-based, postseason format that was approved by the NHLPA on Friday by a 29-2 vote, with the Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning the only teams whose representatives voted against it.

The games would be held inside empty arenas at two hub cities, where players, staff and others would be housed during the season restart. Originally, the NHL was seeking four different hubs, but logistics and a refocusing on the 24-team, conference format narrowed that to two.

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