Chirps from Center Ice

A fan blog about the AHL's Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins

And Another Delay – This Time February 4

“You may delay, but time will not.” — Benjamin Franklin

Yet another delay to the start of the AHL season. Announced Wednesday after another Board of Governors call that the league has pushed back the start to February 5.

All other parameters remain. They are, in part:

– The Canadian border remains closed. You have four teams that play in Canada (Manitoba Moose, Laval Rocket, Toronto Marlies and the Belleville Senators) as well as three teams which have an Canadian NHL parent (Utica Comets, Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors) – how are you going to handle that situation?

– COVID isn’t going away, as a matter of fact, the numbers are increasing again. Pennsylvania (Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins, Hershey Bears, Lehigh Valley Phantoms) is hitting daily positive case numbers not seen since the April, and these current numbers are higher than they were back in the Spring.

Teams still need eight weeks to get going as far as a front office is concerned as well as a schedule. That puts you right at December 11. If the COVID numbers are lower and the pandemic is starting to get contained, then maybe you start seeing a schedule and the front office efforts start firing up again if in fact the February 5 date is a real go. Big, big if.

Here is what I think happens if this pipe dream of a February 5 start date comes to fruition:

– A 38-40 game schedule which includes a ton of three in threes to get you about 10 weeks of a regular season, which leads into a truncated playoff playoff system. No, I don’t think they expand playoffs like they did in the NHL or in baseball. They may keep it the way it is; eight teams get in. First round is a best of three, second round best of five, all other rounds best of seven.

– This still runs you to a mid-June-ish finish of a season. The reason I say that is that a majority of these teams are run on the ground by college kids, going into July or August isn’t going to work because they have to get ready for school in the Fall.

– Not every team is going to play. I can see the Canadian teams opting out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the teams with NHL counterparts opt out too. In states where the numbers are bad, (like Pennsylvania) I could see these teams opting out as well.

– Teams may announce intentions to play but be forced to bow out. Where does that leave people who put deposits down for the next season?

– I don’t see a bubble happening, which is four or more teams playing in one location. I thought I did, but then a surge in cases happened and now I don’t. What I do see is a lot of Binghamton, Syracuse, Hershey and Lehigh Valley in our futures.

– What do you do about fans. The AHL can’t operate without fans. It just can’t. Operating a minor league franchise game night at a max capacity of 15% of what your max is (that would be roughly 1,245 for Wilkes-Barre) isn’t going to break you even when you already lost the last 10% of your season last year and about half of it this year.

I am growing less and less confident day by day, week by week that there will be a season. How do you make money off of 1,245 fans? You don’t. I get that yes, punting on this season and pulling the plug in October would be seen as just giving up, but stark reality is that you have a closed border with teams which operate in Canada, either as a franchise or have NHL parents there. You honestly think that things improve by December 11 such that you can start making plans? Surely, you jest. It’s really not a matter of if they pull the plug on the 2020-21 season, but when. All you are doing is delaying the inevitable. Maybe things improve. But if they haven’t yet, what makes you think they will to fit a magical February 5 start date?

Wear a mask. Wash your hands often. Stay home if you are sick. That’s the only way we beat back this thing.

Please.

NHL Draft Recap – Wait, What Month is It?

Pittsburgh didn’t have a pick in the first round on Tuesday but they were pretty active on Day Two on Wednesday. First, they made a trade.

Gruden’s pedigree is as follows…

Gruden is considering heading back to juniors for what would be considered an overage year.

With the freshly minted pick they obtained from the Senators, Pittsburgh selected…

Backing up a sec, look for Casey DeSmith to back up Tristan Jarry in a shortened NHL season, whenever that starts. That leaves Emil Larmi and Alex D’Orio here on the farm, but look for Pittsburgh to sign a veteran goalie for full time work in the AHL (whenever that season starts) and either D’Orio or Larmi to be the backup in a (likely) even shorter AHL season.

Pittsburgh went with another goalie with their 77th pick in selecting Calle Clang.

That makes two of us.

Deeper, Pittsburgh went with Lukas Svejkovsky at 108.

Raivis Ansons was next at 149th overall.

Teddy Blueger has a friend in the locker room now.

And then finally…

If you are a subscriber to The Athletic, Corey Pronman had a summary of Pittsburgh’s picks you can check out here.

I debated doing this again this season, but in a pinch I always go back to the older posts when Pittsburgh had drafts before in the past, so it’s good to carry on that tradition in some regard, even though it is October and we should be gearing up for a season.

On that front, there was a bit of news this week.

That affects the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, where the Penguins play. It’s a 15% max capacity of a venue up to 10,000. The Penguins play in an arena that can seat 8,000, so that is about…checks math….1200 people. Can you make money off of 1200 people? How many other people get turned away? I don’t think it can work, honestly.

Also, Hartford will need to find a new home next season.

It’s the University of Connecticut, but they share the building with the Wolf Pack. Could Hartford play all of it’s games on the road? Will there be an AHL bubble?

Who knows. Wear a mask, please.

Too Far Into the Forrest – J.D. Forrest named WBS Head Coach

It’s all about the pun in the head line because the tweet came down from Pittsburgh Friday which made it official:

Link there in on the meatier details, such as that WBS assistant Jarrod Skalde was not retained and Jason Karmanos named General Manager of Wilkes-Barre. Mike Vellucci had served as both head coach and GM during his tenure on Coal Street last season.

It’s a safe hire. If you go looking for more quotes on the decision you will see tweets like these:

I don’t have a problem with the hire. Promote from within. Forrest served under and learned from some damn fine coaches in Wilkes-Barre.

One other note, from the release, “The Penguins will not make any additional decisions regarding the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coaching staff until closer to the start of the AHL season.”

Wear a damn mask and wash your damn hands so we can have some semblance of an AHL season this year. Thanks.

Help Wanted – Captain and Coach

We don’t exactly know when the start of the AHL season will be, targeted for December 2020, but we do know that the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will be in the market for a new head coach (announced September 2) and a new captain (announced last week).

Let’s start with the older news. David Warsofsky was traded with other assets last week to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kasperi Kapanen. The return, affecting Wilkes-Barre were forward Pontus Aberg and defenseman Jesper Lindgren. Both spent time in Toronto with the Marlies last year but will start their seasons overseas because of the pandemic here in the United States and the uncertainty of if, or even when, an AHL season may occur in the midst of all of this.

Kasper Bjorkvist will also play overseas next season. It’s going to happen a lot with the foreign born players. Development waits for no one.

Today’s news shouldn’t come as a shock, Mike Vellucci was named as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Vellucci was always destined for Pittsburgh. You don’t steal a guy off of a team that just won the Calder Cup without some guarantee baked in that one day he will be behind the bench of your NHL team. It wasn’t a matter of if Vellucci would head to Pittsburgh, it was a matter of when. When the Penguins cleaned house and fired all of their assistant coaches and kept Mike Sullivan on, the writing was on the wall.

I have no idea who Wilkes-Barre has in mind for captain.

Candidates for head coach could include current assistants J.D. Forrest or Jarrod Skalde or the Penguins could go deeper in the organization and hire Mark French, who was recently named as the Wheeling Nailers head coach. If the name rings a bell, French coached the Hershey Bears when they won 60 games in 2009-10. I mean if you had to ask me now who the front runner is or would be, it would be French. He’s familiar with coaching in this neck of the AHL woods and is already under contract in the organization. It’s a no-brainer.

We don’t even have a schedule yet and have no idea if we will even have AHL hockey this season, so a new head coach may be a low priority thing at this point in time. The next blog post (whenever the hell that may be these days) may be introducing the new head coach after the announcement comes down from Coal Street on who that man or woman may be.

Stay tuned.

Wear your mask, wash your hands, stay six feet away from people and for god sakes, stay home if you are sick.

American Hockey League Delays Start of 2020-21 Season

We aren’t starting on time.

On Thursday, the AHL announced that out of its Board of Governors call that they have delayed the start of the 2020-21 season to December 4, 2020.

Here is the whole announcement:

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … American Hockey League President and CEO Scott Howson has announced a revised start date for the 2020-21 AHL season, as approved by the league’s Board of Governors during its 2020 Annual Meeting held today via conference call.

At the recommendation of the AHL’s Return to Play Task Force, the Board of Governors has approved moving the anticipated start of the 2020-21 regular season to December 4, 2020, due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis. The AHL will continue to work with its member clubs to monitor developments and local guidelines in all 31 league cities.

Further details regarding the 2020-21 American Hockey League schedule are still to be determined.

In operation since 1936, the AHL serves as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame spent time in the AHL in their careers.

Coal Street responded with it’s own announcement:

Which was basically the same thing that the AHL had to say in their initial announcement.

You are probably looking at a shortened season, where you will probably see regional opponents only, and a lot of them, over the course of a season of probably anywhere from 40-50 games. That means Hershey, Lehigh Valley more than the 12 times we have played them in the past. Probably no Western Conference teams this season and definitely no Canadian teams like Belleville or Toronto.

What I hope happens, if there is any hope of having a season, is what you are seeing with the NHL, NBA and MLS. Teams in a bubble and playing inside of that bubble. Could Bridgeport, Hartford, Springfield and Providence all set up shop in Wilkes-Barre for example and play games against each other and the Bears, Penguins and Phantoms? It’s a possibility and it may not be that big of a logistical nightmare as you would think. If an AHL arena is the main source of income for a building (in most markets) then freeing up a building to play a game every day there when there is nothing else going on is a potential possibility.

Hopefully.

I still think we are months away from having fans in the building and even when we get there, how many said fans can you have in the building and how many of those fans would feel safe venturing into a building with 3000 other strangers? If the AHL is a gate driven league, playing games behind closed doors isn’t feasible throughout every market. Setting up in five or six regional markets in front of no one or a limited amount could be a possibility.

So we continue to wait, and wear our masks.

There is other news out there, Wilkes-Barre signed a bunch of guys recently. Nick Schilkey and Zach Nastasiuk are Mike Velucci guys and won a Calder Cup with him in Charlotte last season and are good additions….Matt Abt signed with the Colorado Eagles….the Pens brought back Jon Lizotte and Chase Berger for next season.

I haven’t forgotten about the blog and it isn’t going anywhere. There just hasn’t been any news to report worth filling out a post on. When the news comes, like today, I’ll have stuff for it. Stay tuned, I guess.

More importantly, stay safe.

American Hockey League Cancels Season Officially

I honest to goodness don’t know what took them so long.

On Monday morning, the American Hockey League officially cancelled the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs.

No champion crowned for the first time in League’s existence. What the standings were when they called a pause to the season is what the standings are. Penguins finish sixth, based off of points percentage.

Locally, there is a COVID-19 testing site in the parking lot of the Mohegan Sun Arena where the Penguins play. I lost count of how many other AHL arenas were opening up for either testing sites or hospital beds or the like. Writing on the wall that this season would be done was on up for weeks, it just took them until May 11 to stick a fork in the season, officially.

They can’t play behind closed doors because AHL teams exist on sponsorships and people in seats. That’s problem one.

Problem two is the fact that Pennsylvania (home of three AHL teams) is still under a partial state lock down. You can’t even go to a restaurant or get your hair cut. A sporting event? Pshaw! Even if the League were to restart, playing in front of no one just wouldn’t be feasible.

Problem three is the apprehension of others and most of venturing out in public unless or until there is a vaccine or a green light somewhere that it’s okay to go out in public.

Longer term effects are the 33 million plus people out of work who are struggling to make rent or put food on the table. Going to a Friday game against an opponent that you see 12 times in a season in an arena with 4,000 other humanoids who may or may not be infected with the virus and paying $12 for food and drink per person is likely very, very low on the priority scale.

Which leads to my next point, which is don’t expect the 2020-21 season to start on time. You are, at best, looking at a shortened season which will probably start in December 2020 or even January 2021. You have to remember that the AHL is a feeder league to the NHL and the NHL seems hell bent on restarting their paused season and having playoffs and then opening up around December of 2020. Personally I think it is silly, because, even if you get a best case scenario of a restart of a hockey season in December 2020, you are 18 months out to having a regular 76 game AHL season again which starts in 2021-22. It’s going to happen regardless because I can’t see the AHL starting on time again in October.

Hope I am wrong.

Where it leaves you as a season ticket holder with your team and tickets into the future isn’t for me to tell you. As soon as the news hit the Twitter feed Monday, I saw a number of teams light up across the AHL with questions and answers and what to do if you have invested in this lost season and into 2020-21.

The Penguins have theirs here, with what to do if you are a full season member here. There are also links if you have a 22 game plan and a 12.

Content wise, I have no idea. Season wrap? Big board? Final Power Rankings? Final update to my stats board? Hell, I have all of spring, all summer and probably all of fall to work on all that stuff if I choose.

Stay safe, stay healthy.

Where Things Stand 4/24

Man, it’s been so long since I updated that there is dust everywhere here at the blog and I damn near forgot the password to get in. Anyway, a quick update as to where things stand with the “paused” American Hockey League season.

– Teams on Twitter are talking like it’s the end of the season. From goals of the season and silly GIFs, it certainly looks like teams are packing it in until official word.

– Did you pay for your season tickets for 2020-21 yet? I did. There hasn’t been any official word from the Penguins yet regarding any type of refunds or credits which may apply for this lost, er,, paused season or next years start.

– I don’t have anything for you on what to do with unused vouchers and the like. I know were were due another bobble head and assorted tchotchkes. My guess is when official word comes down on the fate of the season, all will be revealed.

On the remainder of the season, two things came to light today. You will need sound for this first one.

Also….

That last one is paywalled, but the finer points include:

– AHL isn’t likely to restart the 19-20 season.
– They have a plan to start on time for 20-21.
– The have a plan to have a delayed start to 20-21 also.
– The whole NHL-AHL owned clubs / independent AHL teams.
– One last headache for David Andrews, who is stepping down at the end of the season. Hell of a way to go out if you ask me.

They, unlike their NHL counterpart, can’t play games in front of no one because they don’t have a TV contract. So I wouldn’t worry at least in this far term about AHL games being played behind closed doors next year. It isn’t financially feasible for some of, if not all of the teams.

What it means for you the ticket payer to the men and women in the front offices of the AHL team you support is anyones guess. I would like to think that some of the ticketing offices are pressuring the front offices asking what is going on so they can have some type of plan in place for 2020-21.

The AHL Board of Governors is set to have a call at some point in the near future and I would expect that the 19-20 AHL season will be called off officially. When that happens, look for that official word here.

Oh, out the door, the Penguins re-signed Chase Berger for next season, whenever the hell that is going to be.

Stay safe.