Rangers AHL affiliate Wolf Pack ready to get back to work but where will they play?
The puck will drop for the AHL’s 85th season beginning in February 2021. The upcoming season is still a work in progress as details are not fully ironed out. As far as the Wolf Pack are concerned, they are raring to go.
“The American Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the structural framework for an AHL season that will begin on February 5, 2021. Details are still being worked out, but this step allows our teams and their National Hockey League partners to better determine their plans for the coming season. We look forward to dropping the puck on Feb. 5.”AHL President and CEO Scott Howson
Teams can opt out, Wolf Pack not expected to be one of them
The AHL established January 4th as the opt-out date for the upcoming season. Currently the clubs will decide if they want to participate in the shortened season. The decision will based on finances and the arrangements between AHL-NHL affiliates.
Teams that are owned by their NHL affiliate (19) will likely play and absorb the financial loses. There is a balance between finances and player development. The questions becomes how much money are these teams willing to lose?
Teams that are independently owned (13) will have to work with their NHL club to determine the next course of action. There is no guarantee that every team will play. The league as a whole is dependent on gate driven revenue which will not exist in the 2021 season.
State of the Hartford Wolf Pack
Currently, the XL Center will not be opened until mid to late 2021. Given the restrictions in the state and elsewhere in the AHL, fans will likely be out of the picture. This gets challenging on the Wolf Pack end considering how to participate in the shortened 2021 season.
The current arrangement has the Rangers in control of on ice decisions while Spectra (XL Center management) has control of marketing, sponsorships, concessions, and other off ice decisions. The building is overseen by the Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) as the state owns the facility.
This agreement likely needs to be modified if the Rangers plan on participating in the season. This was brought up in the CRDA’s meeting on October 15th.
“The CRDA has communicated with MSG explaining that if it is going to be a practice league and no fans, then MSG will have to help with building expenses because it cannot be run under the current agreements.”CRDA
Where will the Pack play?
According to Gerry Cantlin of Howlings, there has been some discussion relating to who pays what for in the upcoming season.
“CRDA Executive Director Mike Freimuth stated very clearly where his organization stands when the Rangers discuss putting the Hartford Wolf Pack back on the ice at the XL Center.”Gerry Cantlon, Howlings
“We have had some talks; nothing final very informal…However, if [the Rangers] want to fire this baby up and pay for it, that’s one thing, and we’ll be glad to handle it, but it will cost money. Right now, there is no revenue coming in. We want to be helpful to a longtime partner in our community, but I don’t even know if we wanted to, we could do so if health guidelines will permit us.”Mike Freimuth, CRDA
The Rangers and CRDA will have to accelerate discussions if the club intends to play in the XL Center next season. The time is ticking considering the opt-out date is around the corner.
Another possibility is having the Wolf Pack play at their practice rink in Cromwell, CT. They could also play at the Koeppel Community Sports Center in Hartford, where the Trinity hockey team currently resides. The Wolf Pack have options if they are unable to play at the XL.
Potential Divisional Play
As discussions are ongoing with details of next season, the divisions will look different next season. Nothing is finalized yet, but currently the Wolf Pack will be in a division with Bridgeport (Islanders), Providence (Bruins), Springfield (St. Louis), and Charlotte (Florida).
There is expectation that there will be divisional play only similar to the NHL. Given it is such a small division, Hartford will see these opponents a good number of times.
For more information regarding next season, check out this thread by Patrick Williams. This is worth a read.
A very unusual season on tap
Details on the upcoming season continues to trickle out. The number of games teams will play is varied by club. The AHL has set a minimum of games to be played at 24. However, teams will have the opportunity to play as many as they want. Standings would be based on points percentage considering the uneven amount of games.
The playoff format is up in the air as well. That is another aspect to be determined at a later date. The main focus is player development, similar to a scrimmage setting.
“No certainty that there will be an AHL postseason to start with. Could be just divisional playoffs. Long trips for playoff series would seem to be out of the question.
Dolgon said right now, Crunch and TB have no interest in playing in AHL postseason”Syracuse Hockey
The AHL will return to normal in Fall 2021 for a full regular season with playoffs. This upcoming season will be a modified brief season to get games in for prospects.