Hey Manitoba Moose fans, if you don’t yet know the draft history, hometown, favourite pre-game meal, and mother’s maiden name of each of players making up the Toronto Marlies, Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket, it is almost a guarantee that you will after the Moose face off against each of those clubs roughly 15 times in the new year.
Much like its parent National Hockey League, the American Hockey League is currently in the process of hammering out the many details for the upcoming 2020-21 season. With a proposed start date of early-February, many of the factors involved with playing a season remain out of the hands of the AHL’s board of governors.
The latest on the AHL’s current strategy is that of playing a 44-game regular season from February 5 to May 30, with teams only facing off against other teams from within their respective re-aligned divisions. That proposed re-alignment would see an all-Canadian division – much like that of the NHL – which would only include the Manitoba Moose, Toronto Marlies, Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket. The four divisions from the 2019-20 AHL season would need slight tweaking to accommodate the newly-formed Henderson Silver Knights as well as the removal of the Canadian clubs from the main USA circuit.
After originally announcing in late-July that the season would begin on December 4, AHL President and CEO Scott Howson reversed course and bumped back the plans by two months to early-February.
“The American Hockey League’s Board of Governors has approved moving the anticipated start date of the 2020-21 season to February 5, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis,” read a statement from the AHL’s PR department.
This news comes after ‘significant consideration and respect to the governing health bodies’ within the appropriate geographical zones, and follows the recommendation from the Return to Play Task Force. Guidelines for each of the 31 member clubs will be provided in the coming weeks/months.
Of the many concerns surrounding a return to play, the largest issue would certainly be that of cross-border travel, as the league has four teams stationed in Canada. The risks of allowing US-based teams into the country would be high and most likely denied by government – much like it has done of the NBA and MLB. And with COVID-19 numbers growing in each of the Canadian-based AHL markets, the proposed idea of a four-team, all-Canadian AHL division remains as the frontrunner.
Serving as the NHL’s main feeder league, the AHL has been in business for over 80 seasons, servicing most NHL players before the start of their respective NHL careers. On Thursday, the AHL’s feeder league, the ECHL announced that its 13 participating teams for the 2020-21 season have each submitted their rosters for the coming year, with a new allowance of additional roster spots for contracted NHL and AHL re-assignments. Larger rosters will most definitely be a hot topic in NHL and AHL return to play discussions moving forward.
How things will look within the AHL remains unknown. Will fans be in attendance? Will teams play out of their own home arenas? Will some teams share arenas, training facilities, flights, buses? At this point, we do not know. What we do know is that of all of the ‘return-to-play’ frameworks within the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB, the National Hockey League has done the absolute best job of providing a safe playing/living/working environment for their respective member players and teams, and we can most definitely expect the same from the AHL in the new year.