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Should the NHL resume, the playoffs will be like no other... in a number of ways

With the new playoff propositions, the Minnesota Wild are just barely hanging on to one of the final playoff spots.
Credit: AP
Minnesota Wild's Kevin Fiala, top left, is congratulated by teammates after his power-play goal against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

ST PAUL, Minn. — It's been 2½ months since the Minnesota Wild last stepped onto the ice for a meaningful hockey game.

Kevin Fiala continued his late-season surge by netting his second goal of the game with 59 seconds left in overtime to lift the Wild to a 5-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks back on March 8.

Since then, hockey—and the entire sports world—took a back seat as a global pandemic altered everything.

Seasons were put on hold, March Madness was canceled entirely and millions of people have since been impacted as a result of the coronavirus.

But as the nation begins to enter a new phase, the NHL is preparing to do so as well.

On Monday, the NHL unveiled a new phase of returning to play, allowing players to workout at team practice facilities, with limitations.

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In a memo, the NHL said it's targeting an "early June" return for players to be able to work out at their team facilities in small groups, but it didn't specify how long this phase would last.

But it does signify the possibility for the NHL season to resume.

The NBA is also in the process of taking steps towards returning as they've allowed facilities to reopen, and players to workout with restrictions.

Now, the NHL is looking to take similar steps.

In the plans released on Monday, the NHL said it is hoping to reopen training facilities and allowing up to six players to train together at a time, while emphasizing that "Player participation in Phase 2 is strictly voluntary." 

For some players, this will be an opportunity to return to a somewhat normal routine. For fans, it provides some optimism that they'll soon be able to cheer on their favorite hockey team—albeit from their living room couch—and it would be starting already in the homestretch, or maybe even the playoffs, if and when it resumes.

Last week, the NHL Players' Association agreed to a 24-team playoff, which would increase the field by 50% (or eight additional teams) which would place the Wild just barely in the playoff picture.

The Wild are currently sixth in the Central Division and 11th in the Western Conference, so if play resumes, Minnesota would be hanging on to one of the final postseason positions.

And while it's cliché to say anything can happen in the playoffs, it couldn't be more accurate this year with the layoff.

There's no telling just how well any team will play given the time away from the ice. Winnipeg Jets star forward Patrik Laine made headlines last week when he said that his game will look "terrible" when he returns.

Fiala, who had 14 goals and 12 assists over his last 18 games with the Wild, has been over in Sweden throughout the pandemic, where restrictions have been limited and daily ice time has been available for him throughout.

It won't be clear how well the Wild—or any team—will gel as a unit on the ice, but whatever product we see out there, should conditions be safe enough to return to action, it will be a much-welcomed sight for any hockey fan.

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