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A detailed view of the NHL logo on the back of the goal netting before the game between the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Capital One Arena on October 16, 2019 in Washington, DC.

(KMOV.com) — The National Hockey League is inching closer to its return amid the coronavirus pandemic, and Thursday came another sign that the league is progressing in the right direction.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association announced Thursday that Phase 3 of the league's return-to-play protocol would begin July 10. Phase 3 signifies the start of formal training camps for the clubs, a time period during which the teams will prepare for the expanded Stanley Cup Playoffs to follow.

24 teams will compete in this year's playoffs, separated by conference affiliation at two hub cities yet to be finalized by the NHL. As the St. Louis Blues stood at the top of the Western Conference standings when the coronavirus shutdown occurred, they will compete as one of the four top seeds in a round-robin seeding round upon the resumption of play. Teams ranked 5th through 12th in their respective conference standings will open their playoff experience with a five-game elimination series, the winners of which will join the top seeds from each conference to comprise the 16-team field for the subsequent playoff round.

While the league officially entered Phase 2 of its return-to-play protocol as of June 8, the Blues have indicated they would not be in any rush to enter into this process. Phase 2 consists of the period during which teams are permitted to hold voluntary team at their facilities.

Blues GM Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week that the team would rely upon the players' preferences for how to conduct their training during this time.

“I have talked with the players and they will tell us when they think we should open,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch. “If they feel comfortable training as they are (currently), they should. When they want us to open, we will."

Until we get a little closer to Phase 3, the Blues may continue training wherever they are. While many players did remain in St. Louis throughout the shutdown, others returned to their hometowns, anticipating correctly that the hiatus would last several months.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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