The AHL and Hartford Wolf Pack face extreme uncertainty with season cancellation on horizon

The American Hockey League cancelling the remainder of the 2019-2020 season is inevitable. The Board of Governors is set to meet Friday through a call at 3pm. The league has been on pause since March 12th.

“The AHL has as Board of Governors call set for Friday. No confirmation of it, but obviously possible that’s when the rest of the season could be cancelled.”

Pierre LeBrun

Pack Disappointment

After numerous rumblings throughout the pause, the league is beginning to focus on the 2020-2021 season. President and CEO Dave Andrews has commented the league has a slim chance for the 2020 Calder Cup Playoffs. The Wolf Pack would have snapped a four year playoff drought if the season resumed. For fans in Hartford, this season was a heart breaker as no one anticipated an unfinished season.

“I don’t really see, at this point, how we would get the Calder Cup Playoffs in but we have the option still open and we’re going to re-visit it in May.”

Dave Andrews

The Wolf Pack would finish the season with a record of 31-20-6-5 for 73 points. That ranks the group 4th in the Atlantic Division. If the league went straight into the playoffs, Hartford would be facing the Providence Bruins in the first round of the 2020 Calder Cup Playoffs in the best of five series.

Check out the 2019-2020 season awards here.

What Ifs and What’s Next

For the organization and fans, the “what if” will never be known for the promising roster the Rangers and Chris Drury assembled. Dividends were paid in prospect development, culture, and the season progression. However, not knowing the outcome of this season will be on the minds for many Wolf Pack fans. Hartford caught the attention of the league with their season as the overhaul last summer was tremendous. The Wolf Pack could had a deep playoff run and that was certainly possible. Not knowing where the team would of ended up is going to be a burning question.

Looking at the upcoming season, Hartford will have a chance to bolster their roster once again with the right veterans and dependable AHL players. Chris Drury began the process by re-signing Vincent LoVerde and Mason Geertsen as both players are great to have around prospects. They both were also key cogs pushing the team to further success with what they bring to the table on a daily basis.

Prospects such as Vitali Kravtsov, Yegor Rykov, and Tim Gettinger will return to Hartford. Lias Andersson could possibly return too. All of the prospects in Hartford next season will be ready to sharpen and push their game on another level. Kris Knoblauch has done a great job pushing the players and create an atmosphere where prospects can achieve and learn from mistakes. There will be unfinished business for the players returning in Hartford, including veterans. Next season must be successful as this season for continual growth all around.

Changes on D and in Goal

The defensive core will look significantly different as the influx of prospects enter the organization. Hartford’s potential blue line could have the names of K’Andre Miller, Nils Lundkvist, Tarmo Reunanen, Matthew Robertson, and a few others. Despite a solid performance by Darren Raddysh, there is no room for the defenseman to return. Nick Ebert was a good depth defenseman for Hartford but I do not see him returning as well.

The goaltending situation will be telling as the summer continues. The Rangers will have work to do regarding Alexandar Georgiev. Then the Wolf Pack will need a seasoned, veteran goalie in Hartford to help mentor Adam Huska. Jean-Francois Berube’s contract is also up with the Rangers. How about Tyler Wall manning the pipes, and if so, he will be fighting for a spot in Hartford against Huska. There are plenty of questions surrounding goalies in the organization. Having a prospect plus a seasoned goalie is beneficial on many fronts. As Forever Blueshirt’s owner pointed out yesterday, the Rangers will need to sign or trade for a veteran goalie in order to protect Georgiev from Seattle expansion draft.

Next season will provide excitement for fans in Hartford after a promising 2019-2020 season. Fans can finally get excited for a competitive roster and see the Rangers handling prospect development better unlike in years past.

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Recapping the Season

This season provided plenty of insight on what the strength and weaknesses of the team. There is opportunity to bolster deficiencies for the club next season. The play on the road was a continual struggle. Hartford managed a record of 10-14-5-3, which was decent as the home record helped the overall record significantly when the club established a 21-6-1-2 record at the XL Center.

The road struggles did help build character, but the club ended up on the short end of the stick often. There were a few games where Hartford played a solid game to either win, or collect at least a point out of the contest. There was a fight in these games, and they did not give up. The best away game that showed character and fight was against the Utica Comets on January 15th. Hartford was down 5-0 after one period of play. Then, Hartford comes back with five unanswered goals to tie the game in the late stages of the third to force overtime. Unable to get the second point, the Pack did a good job responding after being down by that much. Then there were games where the Pack were down by one goal, and they found a way to tie the game late to settle for overtime. Previous rosters were unable to pull that off. You also have to give credit to Kris Knoblauch as he will try to spark the team and find momentum.

Knoblauch (AHL)

The specialty teams were night and day depending on which one we talk about. The power play was a struggle. There were times where it became hot, but it was not consistent enough to be lethal throughout the season. Hartford’s power play ranked 28th in the league, operating at 13.8%. The penalty kill on the other hand was excellent. Hartford ranked 6th in the league, operating at 85.8% as the short-handed situations was solid and consistent throughout the season.

Looking Ahead With Uncertainty

As the virus continues to wreck havoc in every aspect of life, the AHL is keeping in contact with the NHL regarding handling the pause. Next season will be tricky in both leagues.

The AHL will generate multiple schedules for the upcoming season. They will range from a start in October, to possibly a late start such as December, or maybe January. This will also depend on when the NHL starts next season. The AHL should not start at a different time as the NHL because of call ups and player development as there has to be consistency. There are a few concerns regarding how the league can operate next season from the viewpoint of teams.

Unlike the NHL, the AHL has minimal revenue stream from TV deals. Teams in the AHL rely on fans for revenue, especially in smaller markets such as the Utica Comets and Binghamton Devils. It is not sustainable for the AHL to play without fans next season for many teams that are owned independently. To mitigate the potential revenue issues, NHL teams may have to pitch in for their AHL clubs to play without crowds. Otherwise, there could be hesitation of teams of not wanting to play due to financial losses. Currently, 19 clubs are owned by their NHL affiliate. The rest are owned by other parties. Excluding the two teams that are owned by an NBA franchise or a Fortune 500 company, the rest rely on fans for revenue. What the next steps will be for next season will be uncertain.

“In no particular order, here are thoughts and concerns I have heard from people around the #AHL.

● Regardless of next season’s plans, the league’s fan base mainly middle class/families — 30 million unemployed in the US is a massive issue.

● In the event that games are held without fans, working out some sort of financial formula for independently owned teams would be necessary.”

Patrick Williams

Another concern is how to handle playing across Canada and the United States as regions have variations of restrictions. Not every city will be open at once, or want potentially a team to play there despite no fans around. Add in travel, schedule could get messy. As the situation continues to unfold, there is no clear direction for the AHL on how to manage next season.

“● I would also add airline travel to the list. AHL teams’ air travel is almost exclusively commercial. The airline industry is an absolute mess right now, and that might (will?) impact options, service, and costs in some markets.”

Patrick Williams

From Hartford’s viewpoint, the Capital Region Development Authority and Spectra will have a tough task of reopening the building when the time is right. There is talks about renovating the XL Center before reopening again to the public. However, given this is a fluid situation, things change on the fly. Financially, the building will suffer additional losses.

“”It’s very hard at this point to even guess when will be open,” remarked CRDA Executive Director, Mike Freimuth, from his office in Hartford where he spends half of his time with the other in his home office. “Right now we are in seven-digit losses at this point.””

From Howlings, Gerry Cantlon’s Interview with Mike Freimuth

The post pandemic look in the sports and arena industry will be different. It will take time for people to get comfortable again in crowds. The reopening of the XL Center will ultimately have a different feel.

“We don’t have a hard and fast number for (capacity) of the building right now. Everything is in flux, and that’s not cliché. It’s a fact. Every day is different and possible scenarios change daily. Likely there could be some (temperature) screening, less handling of food, more waitress servicing in bringing concessions to reduce the chance for crowding and lack of social distancing. More doors will be open for entrances and exits than there is today. We might make the concourse one way and probably have a change in seating, maybe leave a seat or two in between people to enforce that. Increased cleaning and hygienic in the restrooms, hallways, concession areas, and common areas. There are a lot of elements to this. That is a lot of operational costs while revenues are (going to be) down. Just another economic hit that we just didn’t need. It’s gonna be increased costs without question.””

From Howlings, Gerry Cantlon’s Interview with Mike Freimuth

The post pandemic look will be very different for the Hartford Wolf Pack, XL Center, and the AHL. There is plenty of unknowns from the off ice standpoint. On ice, Chris Drury will be busy reshaping Hartford’s roster for the better in the off-season. Hartford fans should look forward to next season as there is unfinished business for the team.

Ricky Milliner is a Hartford Wolf Pack season ticket holder. While growing up, he discovered hockey by attending a... More about Ricky Milliner

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