If the American Hockey League was to announce the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season today, it would not look good for the Manitoba Moose.
It’s no surprise that the AHL has followed suit with its parent league, the NHL, in temporarily halting play. The surprise, however, may be that the season isn’t postponed at all, but rather finished or concluded, per say.
With the cancellation of the ECHL and nearly every other professional league worldwide – save for the NHL and KHL – it appears as though it will only be a matter of time until the 2019-20 AHL season is called, with the Calder Cup Playoffs beginning as play resumes.
With many speculating upon a ‘points percentage’ style postseason buy-in for the AHL and its 31 member clubs, the Calder Cup would feature the same 16-team postseason format for which AHL fans have come to appreciate over the past number of years. The first round would once again be best-of-five playoffs, while the second through fourth rounds would feature best-of-seven matchups.
As the points percentage tiebreaker currently stands, there would be no changes to the current standings (ordered by total points) as the four divisionally ranked teams would hold true to their placements. Unfortunately for Manitoba, the Moose would fall short of the postseason by a significant mark.
Head coach Pascal Vincent and the Moose saw a number every-day regulars spend significant time away from the team, receiving calls to play for the Jets as an onslaught of injuries decimated the big-league team’s roster throughout the season.
Manitoba, unfortunately, did not put together a strong season, finishing in eighth place (of eight Central Division teams) with a grand total of 55 points (27-33-1). The Moose had the fourth-most penalty minutes (856) league-wide, while placing fifth-last in goals for (160), fifth-last in points percentage (.451) and second-last in regulation wins (18).
Only three teams had less points than Manitoba (55) on the season: Bridgeport (53), Bakersfield (50 and San Jose (49). The Condors and the Barracuda played five and six games less than Manitoba, respectively.
Adding to the difficult season is the fact that the Moose placed 21st out of 31 teams league-wide in terms of total attendance. Since returning to Manitoba’s capital from the Maritimes, the Moose have slowly seen attendance figures drop. In 32 games in 2019-20, the Moose drew 158,739 fans to Bell MTS Place.
There was one occurrence in which the team eclipsed 8,000 fans (New Year’s Eve 8,372). Seven games saw less than 3,300 spectators. The lowest attended game was January 15 (2,842 attendees). There was no Winnipeg ICE or Jets road game that night. Temperatures that evening did hit minus 26 degrees, however.
This past season, Cleveland led the way with 280,318 total fans for an average game attendance of 9,043. That is a total of 121,579 more fans than Manitoba over the course of the shortened season, or 4,082 more fans per game.
Year-By-Year Game Average AHL Attendance at Bell MTS Place:
- 2015-16 – 7,285 (9th)
- 2016-17 – 5,656 (13th)
- 2017-18 – 5,277 (18th)
- 2018-19 – 4,722 (22nd)
- 2019-20 – 4,961 (21st)
Interestingly enough, of the 32 home games, Manitoba went 18-14-0, with an average attendance of 4,755 during wins, while averaging 5,225 attendees in games the home team lost. Thus, more fans did not guarantee a better on-ice product.
On a different note, the Moose are one of four AHL teams currently operating in the same city of an NHL club (whether that is their parent/affiliate club or not). Only Manitoba and San Jose operate out of the same venue. 2019-20 attendance figures are listed below:
- Chicago Wolves (Operating in same city as Chicago Blackhawks) placed 7 of 31 (215,562 total, or 7,185 average).
- Toronto Marlies (Operating in same city as Toronto Maple Leafs) placed 13 of 31 (169,447 total, or 5,648 average).
- Colorado Eagles (Operating in same city as Colorado Avalanche) placed 18 of 31 (155,380 total, or 5,179 average).
- San Jose Barracuda (Operating in same arena as San Jose Sharks) placed 28 of 31 (105,367 total, or 3,512 average).
Since returning to Manitoba from St. John’s, the Moose have put up .492 win percentage. 2015-16 saw Manitoba put up 61 points for a .401 points percentage, which was followed up by 68 points (.447) in 2016-17. 2017-18 saw a major improvement as the Moose recorded 92 points (.605), and then a .559 points percentage in 2018-19, before this past season saw a dip in production as the team finished play with a .451 points percentage – just below their five-year average.
With the WHL returning to Winnipeg for the 2019-20 season, the Moose were faced with another challenge in drawing attendees to Bell MTS Place, as opposed to the ICE, who had an easier time as the new product in town. The ICE finished the 2019-20 season in a playoff spot, while averaging 1,503 attendees per game. The Wayne Fleming Arena is the smallest WHL building in the league, boasting a seating capacity of 1,600. In comparison, the Brandon Wheat Kings averaged 3,490 fans a night at Westman Place, which has a capacity of 5,102.
This past season saw six home Moose games in which there were Winnipeg ICE schedule conflicts, as well as six Winnipeg Jets away game scheduling conflicts. On top of those 12 occurrences, three occasions (November 2, January 4 and January 19) saw the Moose, ICE and Jets (on the road) play on the same day.
With a new attraction coming to town (in the form of a relocated WHL team) and the continued appreciation that local Jets fans have of their NHL team while it travels on the road, Moose ownership continued to experience significantly less home game attendees in 2019-20 than in past years. The on-ice product left something to be desired, while more fans did not necessarily translate into more wins.
Reading the market has typically been a strength of True North Sports + Entertainment. Were the past two AHL seasons just minor blips in the radar, or is there something much larger actually going on. Only time will tell.