October 29, 2020

What the AHL start date means for the Rangers, Wolf Pack, and NHL

XL Center (XL Center)

The American Hockey League on Wednesday afternoon announced a new target date for the 2020-21 season. As expected, the league had to further push the start date due to the pandemic.

“The targeted start date for the 2020-21 AHL regular season has been moved to February 5, 2021. Further details regarding the 2020-21 season are still to be determined. Details: https://theahl.com/2020-21-start-

AHLPR

AHL announced new start date

The original plan for the AHL was to start on December 4th in a modified season. League executives and teams were hopeful the pandemic was controlled enough to start the show late 2020. As months passed, the reality of a December start was growing dimmer by the day. The AHL had to address the December start date since they were approaching the deadline to push the season.

Wolf Pack fans will have to wait

For Wolf Pack fans, the wait to see the new look club will be on hold a little longer. The league will have to make additional decisions down the road that will impact everyone in the league so things are still tentative.

AHL start date 2021
Vitali Kravtsov Wolf Pack (Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While the majority of teams are owned by their respective NHL clubs, there is a variety of management structures for teams. Currently, 19 teams are owned by their NHL affiliate and are able to do more in terms of decisions and finances. Then you have one club owned by an NBA franchise (The Cleveland Monsters are owned by the Cavaliers). The Cavaliers will make decisions based on financial and fan capacity. The Monsters play in a 19,000+ seat facility and will return when it makes sense financially.

The Hershey Bears are on a different boat as the club is owned by Hershey corporation, which is a Fortune 500 company. Their thinking will be similar to Cleveland’s while having a different management structure. The remaining clubs are independently owned and rely heavily on gate driven revenue.

All the clubs needs fans to survive regardless of the management structure as teams do not want to lose money by playing in empty arenas or in capacity that is not generating a lot of revenue.

“Everything’s on the table” -Scott Howson, AHL President & CEO

The Canadian-American Border plays a big role

One roadblock for the season is the closed border between the United States and Canada. Currently 3 Canadian teams have AHL clubs located in the United States. This would not be an optimal setup for the upcoming season as call ups and re-assignments would virtually be impossible.

The Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers would possibly move their respective affiliates to Canada for one season to create a Canadian division. The NHL has similar ideas too for their season. However, fans and front offices of the Utica Comets, Stockton Heat, and Bakersfield Condors would have a quiet season.

This perspective is an idea and will have to be decided before the season kicks off. Logistically, having an all Canadian division would work for the AHL. Let’s take a look at the potential division for next season.

  • Utica Comets (Vancouver, Playing in Canada)
  • Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton, Playing in Canada)
  • Stockton Heat (Calgary, Playing in Canada)
  • Toronto Marlies
  • Laval Rocket
  • Manitoba Moose
  • Belleville Senators

Who Will Play Next Season?

Having clubs financially stable is a critical component for the league. There are rumblings that not every team could participate next season. That’s possible considering government regulations on crowd capacity and the financial sense for teams to play.

NHL clubs are in direct contact of their affiliated AHL teams to get a sense from the team. Depending how the pandemic looks in February, we could see the league push the start date again, or have some teams playing while others go dormant for the modified season.

At that point, there has to be talk of where to place prospects if NHL clubs do not have an affiliate for the 2020-21 season. There are more questions than answers when it comes to playing.

“Syracuse owner Howard Dolgon: “Anyone claiming they know how this will end, you don’t want to buy anything from them.”

Dolgon (speaking for himself) does not think every team will be able to play.”

Patrick Williams, interviewing Howard Dolgon

The Syracuse Crunch are affiliated with the Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Syracuse is owned independently and survive through gate driven revenue. The Crunch want to ride the storm out and minimize loses as efficiently as possible.

“We know we’re not making money this year. We want to minimize our losses.”

Howard Dolgon

How Will Next Season Look?

That will be determined at a later date. The scheduling matrix will be adjusted as well for more regional place. For Hartford’s case, a possibility could be only playing teams in the Atlantic Division. This will depend on the league’s thinking when creating schedules for teams.

“It’s going to be a heavy regional schedule no matter what we do, so the teams that are close to each other are going to play each other more often,” Howson said. “Just being a little more cognizant of what the virus is doing and how can we combat that with our scheduling.”

Scott Howson

There could be more concrete information in the upcoming weeks as the league’s return to play task force will meet continually.

“The AHL’s return-to-play task force will meet again next week to come up with a scheduling proposal, including a range of games played. The league could mimic Major League Baseball’s 2020 season by dividing teams into regional groups to reduce travel, including multiple games in the same city between teams.”

Scott Howson

Nils Lundkvist and Lulea out of action due to COVID-19

The SHL was forced to postpone games due to positive cases on Lulea and Rogle today.

For more, read here.

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