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Blackhawks players share mixed reactions to NHL’s announced July 10 training-camp start date

During the team’s first media availability in three months, Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy talked about the league’s first “hard date.”

Patrick Kane emphasized during a Zoom call Thursday that the NHL and its players’ association still have a lot to work out before resuming hockey.
Patrick Kane emphasized during a Zoom call Thursday that the NHL and its players’ association still have a lot to work out before resuming hockey.
Ross D. Franklin/AP

On the surface, the NHL locomotive continues to chug slowly back toward normalcy.

That train reached a new station Thursday — the announcement of a tentative date, July 10, for the 24 playoff teams to start their training camps.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Blackhawks became the final team to end their pandemic media lockdown, making general manager Stan Bowman, coach Jeremy Colliton and three players (Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy) available for interviews for the first time in three months.

But despite the aura of progress and optimism swelling around the league, those players — Kane in particular — shared mixed reactions to the July 10 date.

“The NHL is putting out these dates and whatnot, and as players, we’re taking a step back and saying, ‘Why are these dates being put out when we haven’t really agreed to anything yet?’ ” Kane said. “We just want to be cautious.”

To clarify, both league officials and the NHL Players’ Association did agree on the July 10 date. But Thursday’s announcement included the caveat that camps will begin that day only if “medical and safety conditions allow and the parties have reached an overall agreement on resuming play.”

It’s that overall agreement that still poses a number of obstacles. Kane mentioned as especially pressing challenges the format of the offseason this fall (and offseasons to come), the start date of the 2020-21 season and the safety precautions and quarantine rules during the upcoming playoffs.

“I want to play hockey, but you want it to be fair for the players and everyone involved,” he said on Zoom from his Chicago home. “It’s uncharted territory with a situation like this. Guys come from Canada, Europe. What if someone gets sick? [We] just want to keep our eye on the ball and make sure we get a fair deal. Then we’d be ecstatic to come back.”

Questions about travel logistics are already at the forefront. With practice facilities around the league opening up for training sessions with up to six people this week — the Hawks opened Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday, and Kane, DeBrincat, Alex Nylander and Malcolm Subban were among those who immediately took advantage — many players are starting to migrate back to their teams’ cities.

Connor Murphy was among the Blackhawks who joined a Zoom call with media Thursday.
Ben Pope/Sun-Times

Bowman said “five to seven” Hawks stayed in Chicago throughout the pandemic, and he’s starting to talk to the roughly 15 others to plan out their returns.

Fortunately, negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA aren’t hampered much by salary issues, which have publicly and messily plagued Major League Baseball’s attempts to resume play.

Equally encouraging, both Bowman and Kane said they haven’t talked to any players — on the Hawks or elsewhere — who aren’t on board with returning to play when it’s safe.

DeBrincat and Murphy, at least speaking for themselves, both sounded excited for July 10.

“We’re still agreeing on some stuff, but if we do get that chance to come back, everyone’s excited to play hockey again,” DeBrincat said. “To finally get back on the ice these past few days has been really fun for me.”

Added Murphy: “Even from just a training aspect, to know your timeline of how to ramp up things and how to gauge your training sessions with the strength coach or even on the ice, it’s nice to know.”

The league’s official timeline doesn’t yet extend past July 10, but it’s expected that training camps would last about three weeks, with qualifying-round series — including Hawks-Oilers — taking place in early August.

Kane, DeBrincat and Murphy said they plan to approach camp, assuming it happens, roughly the same as they do normal training camps in September.

And now their coach can formulate a plan for it, too.

“It’s something to really work toward: a hard date,” Colliton said. “You can start to work backwards as far as the preparation we’ll want to do.”