AHL season cancelled, what this means for the future and Wolf Pack
The inevitable has happened. After a conference call made Friday between the league and its Board of Governors, it was announced on Monday that the AHL will forego the remainder of the 2019-20 season and playoffs due to the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. While not a shocking move given the league is reaching 2 months since play was suspended, this will mark the first time in the 84 year history of the league that a season will not reach its end and will also be the first time the Calder Cup will not be awarded, the longest said streak in hockey and possibly sports.
Why Was This Done?
Unlike the NHL which earns revenue from a number of areas with big time sponsorship deals, higher ticket prices in mostly larger venues and network TV contracts, the AHL, generates substantially less in terms of revenue by comparison. Despite being the top developmental league for the NHL, the league is split roughly in half between teams that are independently owned and those owned by their parent clubs. Those owned by their parent clubs, such as the Wolf Pack (NYR), Bridgeport (NYI), Laval (MTL) and Rochester (BUF), would likely have been in a good position financially had the season resumed some time this summer as they have full support from the parent NHL clubs. On the other hand, teams like Providence (BOS), Springfield (FLA this season, STL next season) Syracuse (TBL) and Rockford (CHI) which are independently owned would have likely run into financial troubles.
Cancelling the remainder of the season also gives teams a chance to start working toward next season in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships and fitting their venues based on what possible guidelines would be in place provided arenas would be considered safe for fans to attend. Only time will tell whether fans can attend games when the 2020-21 season starts and also whether teams will be financially stable enough to operate. It’s an ever changing situation that the league, state/provincial and local authorities will continue to monitor but the hope for many us that cancelling the season now will allow for the AHL to start next season on time in early October.
With this announcement, AHL President/CEO David Andrews noted that league standings will revert to points percentage in terms of the standings as all of its 31 teams have played an unequal amount of games. With this, it means that the Providence Bruins have won the Atlantic Division with the Pack finishing in 4th place, just barely in a playoff spot had there been playoffs. Other division winners would include Belleville (North), Milwaukee (Central) and Tucson (Pacific). Individually, Vinni Lettieri will finish tied for 10th in the league with 25 goals and 47 points overall to lead the team. Sam Anas of the Iowa Wild finishes as the top points scorer with 70 while his teammate Gerald Mayhew takes the goal scoring title with 39 goals.
For goaltending, Igor Shesterkin finishes with the 2nd lowest GAA at 1.90 behind Dan Vladar of Providence who posted a 1.79 GAA, both having played in 25 AHL games this season. Both goalies also finish the season in those respective positions in the save percentage category as Vladar had a .936 just barely nipping Igor’s. 934. Kaapo Kahkonen of Iowa lead the way with 7 shutouts while Shesterkin had 3 on the season. Individual league awards for players and teams will be handed out in the coming weeks with these numbers showing just a small sample of what’s to come.
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The 2019-20 Wolf Pack were in the midst of a turnaround season prior to the AHL shutdown despite a stretch where they had fallen from the division lead to just barely hanging onto a playoff spot. With the aforementioned Vinni Lettieri having a breakout season and the arrival of Igor Shesterkin to North American soil, the Pack had made strides toward building for the future and turning themselves into a regular contender again. This fact made more evident with the signings of players like Mike O’Leary and Patrick Khodorenko whom will likely be in the mix next season and the re-signing of veteran Vincent LoVerde and fan favorite Mason Geertsen.
While it’s unfortunate that the season had to be halted and eventually cancelled, it was great to see the turn the 2019-20 Hartford Wolf Pack had taken under head coach Kris Knoblauch, GM Chris Drury and with help from the Rangers themselves as their rebuild not only focused on Broadway. It also put more focus back into player development and making the Hartford Wolf Pack relevant again. Rumors also began to circulate within the past week that Hartford could still have hockey despite the cancellation as MSG and the CRDA were in talks of possibly having the Rangers hold training camp and play games at the XL Center if the world’s most famous arena were still unfit for use if/when the NHL does resume. Only time will tell.
Changing of the Guard
On May 7th, 2019, AHL President/CEO David Andrews announced that the 2019-20 season would be his last before retiring and handing the title over to Scott Howson on July 1st after a unanimous vote by the AHL Board of Governors this past February. Having served the title since 1994, Andrews has overseen exponential growth of the AHL from being a league centered around the Northeastern US and Canadian Maritimes to a reach that has extended all the way to both coast culminating with the league’s first west coast All-Star game ever in Ontario, CA this past January.
Other aspects of the league that have seen change under Andrews’ were numerous innovations regarding player safety, many new rules such as hybrid icing and 3 on 3 overtime but biggest of changes being the AHL becoming the top developmental league for the NHL. Expansion from just 16 teams to currently 31 teams in a number of different markets and soon a 32nd franchise to affiliate with the new Seattle franchise. Prior to this, Andrews had served as director of AHL operations for the Edmonton Oilers contributing to Stanley Cups for the Oilers in 1988 and 1990. Andrews also oversaw a Calder Cup championship for their AHL affiliate, the Cape Bretton Oilers, in 1993.
Scott Howson will become the 10th president of the AHL after most recently serving as director of player development for Edmonton and having served in numerous roles in two stints in the Oilers organization since 1994. Howson also served as general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2007 to 2012 in which Columbus made their first playoff appearance in 2009. Even though Howson would not officially assume the role of President/CEO officially until July 1st, there had been plans for him to leave his position in Edmonton on April 15th to begin his transition. Instead, one of his first tasks will be how to handle league operations in the midst of these unprecedented times. Though while many in hockey differ on how David Andrews has handled the league during his tenure, Howson will be tasked with overseeing a league that has grown from a regional league to one of the top developmental leagues in the world while also building his own legacy. Maybe as a nice gesture as David Andrews won’t be able to award the Cup in 2020 as he steps down, Scott Howson will let Andrew’s award the Calder Cup to the next team to hoist it.
Even with the AHL cancelling its season, it’s still uncertain whether next season will start on schedule between the COVID situation and the NHL looking to potentially resume their season this summer. While no one wanted to see the AHL cancel its season, it made the most sense to do so with many teams struggling financially as games weren’t being played. The hope is that it can return, safely of course. However with things changing by the hour, it remains to be seen whether that’s fact, or a pipe dream.