“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.