For the first time in its history, the American Hockey League (AHL) will not finish out its season or playoffs for the coveted Calder Cup due to the coronavirus outbreak. The AHL officially canceled the season and will focus on next year.
The AHL serves as a minor league and developmental league for the National Hockey League (NHL). The AHL is a joint venture with local independent businessmen and the NHL. The league earns revenue through ticket sales, concessions, and merchandise. Without fans in attendance at games, the AHL can’t afford to finish out the season with ghost games (aka games without an audience).
On Monday, the AHL officially canceled the season with intentions on focusing on the 2020-21 season.
“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions,” officials said in a statement. “The League’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season. We are very grateful to the National Hockey League and its teams for their support and leadership in navigating through the challenges faced over the past two months.”
The NHL shuttered its season on March 12. Approximately 15% of the regular season remains in the NHL.
Forget 2020, Let’s Focus on 2021
In many ways, the AHL has taken the most plausible and practical approach. Instead of trying to save the current season, it’s more important to prepare for the next season, which also might not happen.
“There’s a ton of uncertainty here,” AHL president David Andrews told Sportsnet. “We need to prepare for all of those scenarios and whether it’s a full league operating for a full season, or whether it’s some critical mass of teams operating for less than a full season, or whether it’s regional competitions, we’re going to have to find that solution as we go along.”
The AHL did the right thing and paid out players’ salaries through the end of the season. However, the AHL doesn’t reap huge financial benefits from cable television rights packages like other pro leagues in North America, such as the NBA, NHL, and MLB.
“We have to approach a completely different look than what we’ve done in the past to get through 2020-21,” explained Andrews.
At this point, even the wildest off-the-ice ideas can only be executed with reliable testing and proper tracing.
AHL Stepping Stone to NHL
Not even a world war or 9/11 altered the course of the AHL until the novel coronavirus tripped up the entire world.
By punting on the current season, the AHL can devote its resources to providing a safe haven for minor league hockey players. Especially since the NHL intends to skate on.
“We’re going to play in 2021,” added Andrews. “Player development is really crucial for all the NHL teams. They want these young guys playing, so we’ve got to figure out how that’s going to work and what the business model looks like, and it might be something dramatically different from what it looks like now.”
With the NHL looking to resume its season in the coming months, many of the top AHL players will most likely get called up to the NHL or remain on a “taxi squad” of expanded rosters (30-plus) during the inevitable Stanley Cup Playoffs.
NHL teams typically add a couple of minor leaguers to their playoff roster in case of emergency if injuries pile up.
“Some NHL clubs have had that conversation almost immediately with their top AHL players,” said Andrews. “That they were going to be sort of on the taxi squad when the time comes, so ‘Work out, we’ll be in touch with you, eh.'”
One of the proposed NHL reboots will be an expanded playoffs. Up to 24 teams (instead of 16) might be eligible for the first post-pandemic Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Teams are pushing to scrap the remainder of the season and jump head-first into the playoffs. Resuming with the playoffs means teams won’t have to be salary cap compliant and they can call up players from AHL, Canadian Hockey League, or from Europe to fill out open roster spaces.
No Calder Cup First Time Since 1937
For the first time since its inception in 1937, hockey players will not compete for the Calder Cup. The coveted Calder Cup, named after Frank Calder (the first president of the NHL), is even older than Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Syracuse Stars were the first team to hoist the Calder Cup above their heads after winning the 1937 AHL championship.
The Charlotte Checkers won the Calder Cup last year and were the defending AHL champions.
This season, the Milwaukee Admirals held the best record (41-14-5) in the AHL. The Admirals posted 90 points and were the first AHL team to win 40 games.
Winger Sam Anas from the Iowa Wild led the AHL with 70 points (on 20 goals and 50 assists). The Wild’s Gerry Mayhew led the AHL with 39 goals and was third-overall with 61 points.
No one will be bummed out more than Josh Norris. The Belleville Senators’ rookie center quickly made a name for himself and led all AHL rookies with 31 goals and 61 points. Norris’ 61 points was good enough for a tie for third-best in the AHL.
“Josh Norris has been an absolute monster this season,” said Toronto announcer, Todd Crocker.
Iowa Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen led the AHL in wins. Providence Bruins’ goalie Dan Vladar also posted a stonewall season with a 1.79 goals-against average and a 93.6% save percentage.
To get your hockey fix, check out OG’s review of “Slap Shot” with Paul Newman, arguably one of the greatest sports movies of all-time.