Chirps from Center Ice

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

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.

American Hockey League Postpones Season Until May

If you followed it on Twitter Monday, they were on again, off again. At 5 p.m. Wilkes-Barre time on Monday, Springfield bought itself time.

AHL’s season pause will run out to May. Players are heading home.

Delaying until May buys the League about six weeks to come up with some type of contingency plan which still ultimately may end up in season cancellation. You still have 200+ regular season games left to play, plus playoffs. That is, unless you truncate what’s left of the season and either go straight into playoffs and come up with a format that runs a Calder Cup Final out to mid-June, best case.

It’s a bandaid on a bullet wound. The world as you know it has changed. If you haven’t been told to work from home yet, you will be, like I was on Monday. You are home from school and don’t know when you are going to go back. The last thing on anyones minds really should be when something as insignificant as sports are going to restart, let alone minor leagues.

Things can change and when they say that this situation with COVID-19 is fluid and literally changes every hour it’s true. Example, just last week I was still coming in to work and six of my colleagues volunteered to work from home due to this. Today, they scrapped those plans entirely and everyone was instructed to work from home. Maybe the worst of the pandemic happens in a week to ten days and we slowly work out of it and get the country and life as we all know it back online. But I just don’t see it happening, not when it comes to the resumption of play for the 2019-20 AHL season.

More, as it comes when it comes. Stay healthy.

American Hockey League Suspends Season 3/12

Thursday afternoon after a Board of Governors call which wrapped up around 3:30 p.m. Wilkes-Barre time, the American Hockey League announced that they have suspended the 2019-2020 season indefinitely due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 (Corona) virus.

The statement from Springfield reads as follows…

Here is the official statement from Coal Street:

Expand to see the whole statement in its entirety.

Some teams were getting out ahead of the virus and cancelling player appearances, some arenas were taking precautions adding extra hand sanitizer stations and some were even considering playing behind closed doors with no fans in attendance.

The NBA, Major League Soccer, the NHL, MLB and even some college leagues had all previously announced pauses or suspensions to their seasons. In MLS it’s 30 days, baseball is paused for two weeks. Everywhere else there isn’t a timetable.

There are a little over 200 regular season games left in the AHL. The regular season was set to end on Saturday, April 11. Frankly I don’t see how you are going to wedge the remaining month of games (Wilkes-Barre has 13 games left in the regular season) into a window of the middle of April to say the start of or middle of May. Playoffs, for as long as they go (Calder Cup Finals wrap in mid-June in some years) you are looking at the middle of July if you are to play all the games and hold a standard playoff series.

That’s on the assumption that this virus is contained to a point to where you aren’t cancelling sports.

That’s also on the assumption that teams can even reschedule regular season games in buildings where they aren’t the primary tenant of said buildings. A Tuesday at 1 p.m. start in late April? A 10 a.m. Saturday game because of a concert later that night in early June?

On top of that, what’s the quality of play going to be like playing on an ice surface when it’s 80 degrees outside in some areas? You are attempting to play a winter sport in the summertime.

No, thank you.

It’s a developing situation, one that changes every hour it seems, but my best suggestion is to simply cancel the remainder of the regular season and who ever is top four in their respective divisions (the Penguins are not one of the teams, currently) make playoffs, whenever playoffs start, if you can even get the season going again.

Stay tuned, I guess, but we all just were handed a lot of free time for the foreseeable future.

Close Shave — Pens WIN 2-1 (OT)

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In a bit of a surprise to Penguins fans on Wednesday night, the Wilkes-barre / Scranton Penguins tweeted their usual lineup graphic. It looked like this:

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That is indeed Riley Barber’s name in the lineup. Tyler had some more insight:

I had a whole paragraph I had to rip up criticizing the Penguins and the antiquated way that injuries are described in professional hockey. After Barber scored in overtime to give the Penguins a 2-1 overtime win in Allentown Wednesday night, it didn’t matter.

It was a goalie duel, and don’t look now but Dutsin Tokarski has quietly won some games for the Penguins where Casey DeSmith has faltered. Am I brewing up a goalie controversy? No, I am not. Just stating the facts. It will be very interesting to see who plays Saturday in Hershey. Not overlooking the rematch Friday against the Phantoms, but the Bears are a juggernaut and the Penguins need to be almost perfect to win games these days.

This was, by all accounts a better game for Wilkes-Barre, who were in a battle with the Phantoms all night and managed to find a way to win. Find a way to win, that has to be the mantra in this last month of the season.

Other lineup notes included Barber for Justin Almeida and Niclas Almari for David Warsofsky. Warsofsky was listed as injured. I honestly don’t mind, his even strength numbers are terrible and his +/- is a joke. He’s good on the power play and that’s all. Almari has been an abject disaster of late, but if he is going to develop as a pro over here, he learns from his errors and gets better the next time out.

First Period: Alex Lyon kind of stole the period for the Penguins, making stops on Adam Johnson on a breakaway, Kevin Roy on a redirect of a Cole Cassels shot and then Riley Barber twice in close in the periods final seconds. High degree of difficulty saves which he made look easy.

Second Period: The goaltender duel continued and the period zipped by. Kevin Roy got free, but hit a post. Seconds later on the same shift, this:

Amazing what happens when you take the goaltenders eyes away.

Penguins found themselves on some penalty trouble late, but the Penguins penalty kill was stout and held the Phantoms out of the net.

Third Period: Penguins killed off the remaining penalty kill time left over from the second, then had a power play of their own that they failed to score on then Kurtis Gabriel scored on a deflection in front that squeaked through Tokarski and in to tie the game at one.

The Phantoms didn’t GIF the goal.

Penguins had a late power play come and go and it was off to….

Overtime: It took Riley Barber :50 to end it.

On a nice feed by ex-Phantom Phil Varone, no less.

Three Stars: 3) Kurtis Gabriel (goal) 2) Alex Lyon (33 saves) 1) Riley Barber (overtime game winning goal)

The Good: Strong goaltending from Tokarski, defense looked good. Lehigh Valley has been a huge disappointment this season, so take this with a grain of salt.

The Bad: In games like this where the goalies steal the show, anything is a nitpick. They didn’t take any exorbitant penalties and found a way to win. Moving on…

Turning Point: Barber’s shot that ended it gets it here.

Around the Division: It’s a meaningless exercise if the Charlotte Checkers, who are in fourth place keep winning and oh, shucks, they did tonight against Cleveland 3-2 in overtime….Bridgeport beats Toronto 4-1….Providence wins their twelfth straight with a 3-1 win in Hartford and the Wolf Pack have lost five straight.

Standings: Providence 82 — Hershey 81 — Charlotte 73 — Hartford 73 — Penguins 66 — Springfield 65 — Lehigh Valley 58 — Bridgeport 53

Wheeling Update: Nailers were off.

Video Highlights: If I see them I will edit them in.

Pens rematch Friday in Allentown. Gameday setup hits here Friday at 3.

Let’s Go Pens!

GAMEDAY: @ Lehigh Valley 3/11

Who: Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Where: PPL Center

When: 7:05 p.m.

Last Game: Sunday at home ageists Binghamton the Penguins were shutout 3-0. The Phantoms hosted the Sound Tigers Sunday and blew a two goal lead in the third and lost 6-5 in a shootout. Five different Phantoms scored goals.

Last Meeting: February 8 in Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins lost 5-3. Max Sushko had a pair of goals for the Phantoms, Jan Drozg, Myles Powell and Kevin Roy scored for the Pens.

Record: For WBS: 28-26-3-5 (64 pts., 6th place Atlantic Division) // For 24-28-2-7 (57 pts., 7th place Atlantic Division)

Referees: Rob Hennessey / Peter Schlittenhardt

Linesmen: Bob Goodman / Ryan Knapp

Why You Should Care: Pens need to be in win now if they want to be serious about a push towards playoffs. Otherwise, there is a month left in the season and that’s all. It needs to start tonight in Allentown.

Listen: Nick Hart on the call on WILK.

Watch: AHLTV is back for another season and better than ever.

Other Game to Watch: Charlotte, the team in the four spot which the Penguins are chasing, rematch against Cleveland tonight.

Next Five Games: @ LV 3/13, @ HER 3/14, vs. CLE 3/18, vs. HER 3/21, @ BNG 3/27