The boys are back in town. Spread the word around.

But don’t spread anything else.

More than three months after hitting the pause button on the hockey season, the Winnipeg Jets are finally beginning to gear up for a re-start.

While players from many other NHL teams reconvened for limited training, on and off the ice, over the last three weeks, the Jets have been in a holding pattern since the league gave the green light for what they called Phase 2 on June 8.

Until recently, the majority of players preferred to remain in their off-season homes across Canada, the U.S. and Europe rather than travel back to Manitoba.

With the tentative start to training camps, and Phase 3, in less than two weeks, that’s changed.

A team spokesman says the majority of players returned to Winnipeg this week, and by Friday nearly all the players will have arrived. They’re expected to take their first steps on local ice next week, at the Iceplex on the west edge of town.

Phase 2 allows players to train in limited groups with limited staff and no coaches on the ice, but it remains optional.

The Jets say they are acting on advice from the league by not identifying which players have or haven’t returned to Winnipeg, so we won’t immediately find out if any players plan to opt out.

It’s expected players will also have the right to opt out of Phases 3 and 4 — training camp and the playoff tournament — if they deem it’s too risky for their health or the health of those close to them.

The NHL and the players union are in the process of nailing down and voting on all the details of the return-to-play plan, which includes, as a bonus, a brand new, multi-year collective bargaining agreement.

Those who have returned or are returning to Winnipeg will be self-isolating as necessary, following local health orders in order to keep themselves and their community safe, a team spokesman said on Thursday.

The province has lifted the strict, 14-day quarantine rules for professional athletes returning from other jurisdictions, while the federal government is expected to do the same for athletes arriving from the U.S. and other countries.

It’s believed just one or two players have remained in Winnipeg since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the league in mid-March.

Both the Jets’ informal skates and training camp itself will be closed to the public.

Players will be regularly tested, with individual test results kept confidential out of respect for players’ privacy.

Formal training camps could begin July 13.

Around the end of the month, if all goes according to plan, the Jets will fly to Edmonton for the 24-team post-season tournament.

They’d take on Calgary in a “play-in” series, with the winner joining the 16-team Stanley Cup chase, the loser going back home to continue this unprecedented summer.

Edmonton and Toronto this week became the league’s choices as the two hub cities, a dramatic shift from earlier plans to have at least one hub city in the U.S.

One look at a COVID-19 case map tells you why. The U.S., with its lax rules and scattershot approach to containment, has become the pandemic hot-spot, while Canada has a relatively stable grip on it.

Hockey isn’t the only game taking advantage. The federal government on Thursday gave the go-ahead for the Toronto Blue Jays to switch the site of their training camp to Ontario, beginning first thing next week. The Jays will be in a Rogers Centre “bubble” as they prepare for the Major League Baseball season.
NHL teams will strive for the same controlled environment.

The Jets wouldn’t provide details on the protocols planned for next week, but most were outlined in great detail in the league’s 21-page return-to-play plan released in late May.

“If we go to a place that has less COVID-19 in the community, the likelihood of somebody who’s now been tested through training camp and now is centralized, the more we can sort of create a bubble, the less likely we’ll have it,” commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time.

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Twitter: @friesensunmedia

Jets prospects won’t be B.C.-bound

The Vancouver Canucks announced Thursday they’ve cancelled the Young Stars Classic, a September tournament for NHL prospects, due to the pandemic.
That’s where the Jets were going to showcase their prospects this year.
After dropping out of the Penticton, B.C. event last year, Winnipeg was set to re-join the Canucks, Edmonton and Calgary, Sept. 11-15.
The Jets involvement dates back to their first year back in the NHL, with draft picks Mark Scheifele and Adam Lowry taking part in 2011.
This year was to mark Winnipeg’s return to the format after a one-year hiatus.
Last year, Winnipeg took its prospects to Belleville, Ont., for a tournament against prospects from the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.

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