Chirps from Center Ice

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

2021 AHL Schedule Released

They are hell bent on making this work, so two weeks before the season begins, a schedule was announced for said season.

The Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will play 32 games in the abbreviated attempt of a season. Normally what I do in seasons past is a question and answer session, so in keeping with the silly tradition, I offer the following:

Penguins release here. League release here.

1) What does the opponent matrix look like?

Well, you know that the division is changed this season because of the pandemic. Charlotte and Springfield aren’t playing, Hartford, Bridgeport and Providence are playing in a separate three team division which leaves the Penguins, Lehigh Valley, Hershey, Binghamton, Utica, Syracuse and Rochester in a division all to their own called the North Division. Binghamton is playing their home games out of Newark, NJ. There was talk that no team would travel more than 250 miles one way to avoid having to stay in a hotel so that rules out Rochester and Utica. That leaves 10 games with Hershey and Lehigh Valley and six games with Syracuse and Binghamton.

2) Longest road trip? Longest home stand? Three in threes? And will fans be allowed at all?

Well, again, the Penguins aren’t staying in any hotels this season, no team in the division is, really, but since you asked it’s no more than two in a row at home and three straight on the road March 28, 31 and April 3. Zero three in threes. Five back to back games.

No fans to start. The Penguins did mention they would like to allow fans, “at a later date” but if you want my advice, do so at your own risk.

3) Any workday games?

No. The games that the Pens will be playing on the weekdays will be played at home but for April 30 (a Friday) at 7 against Binghamton. All the other weekday games start at 5 but for an April 28 game against Lehigh Valley which starts at 7 and a May 12 game against Syracuse which starts at 7.

I would actually prefer this if there aren’t going to be fans, it frees up my evenings for other things.

4) Is there an All-Star Classic?

Not this year. Laval was supposed to get it under normal circumstances, they just moved it out one year.

5) I didn’t get my free AHL TV code yet.

Neither did I. Don’t fret, just periodically check the e-mail the Penguins have on you. If push comes to shove, call or e-mail your ticket rep.

6) Playoffs?

Don’t know yet. Players want them, team front offices haven’t thought that far out. I don’t see it happening, personally.

7) Any wiggle room for inevitable COVID related delays?

With the concept of playing behind closed doors and teams playing teams only a bus ride away, you would think that there is room for that, but with players wanting playoffs, I honestly don’t think if a weekend set of games for one team gets canned, it’s highly unlikely that those games get added to the tail end or wedged into the schedule.

8) So how are they going to rank teams in the division? Don’t say by points percentage!

Okay, so that question may have been asked by the section in my mind which is bad at math. It looks like yes, they will be ranking teams by points percentage this season because of the amount of games that all the teams are going to be playing and how each differs across the geographic spectrum which is today’s American Hockey League. It’s (sadly) the only fair way to do it.

9) I think this is stupid.

So do I, friend, so do I.

Penguins also announced their training camp roster. Link to that here.

Preseason game next Friday.

Stay safe.

Schedule Friday

Back here Friday afternoon to break it all down.

Preseason Schedule Announced – Sort Of…

By a matter of chance I happened upon the AHL’s website and clicked on their GameCenter menu line item and what drops down is the preseason schedule for 2020-21. So I click on it and it brings me here. On it, the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins are slated to play two exhibition games. They are:

  • Friday, January 29 at Lehigh Valley at 7 p.m.
  • Monday, February 1 vs. Binghamton (in Newark, NJ) at 4 p.m.


Nothing official from the team yet, but if it is on the league’s website, it’s as official as official gets.

No info about radio, etc. Preseason games are not televised on AHLTV.

So there you go. Some news on Friday for you.

We Are In – Where Things Stand as of 1/4

After a 3 pm AHL Board of Governors call, it was announced that the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins will indeed, be part of the teams playing a truncated 2021 AHL season.

Here are the finer points of the details:

  • The Penguins will play in a division with Hershey, Lehigh Valley, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and Binghamton. It will be called the North Division.
  • Pens regular divisional foes Providence, Bridgeport and Hartford will play in a three team Atlantic Division.
    • Springfield and Charlotte have opted out entirely. They join Milwaukee. So that’s 28 teams out of a possible 31 who are playing.
    • Binghamton will play their games out of Newark, NJ and Providence will play their games in Marlborough, Mass.
  • Plan is to play a 32 game schedule out of the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.
  • No fans allowed. They hope to allow a select few at a later date. Good luck.
  • Schedule formats and playoffs are still to be determined.

Some of the finer details out of Coal Street are as follows:

  • The 32 game schedule will go from February to mid-May.
  • If you are a season ticket member (like me) you will receive information allowing you to access AHL TV for free this year. You will be able to watch Penguins home and away games.
  • The credit for last years games and this years will roll over to 2021-22 or if they allow fans later in the year, if you so choose.
  • From the Coal Street release, “An extensive health and safety protocol has been put into place by the American Hockey League, which will include extensive cleaning of facilities, as well as regular Covid-19 testing for players and hockey operations staff members.”

Tyler reported that you may see some workday afternoon games to help some of the teams farther away in the division (Rochester, Utica, Syracuse, etc.) get in and out and home all in one day to avoid hotels. That means 3 p.m. (or earlier) starts. You can probably expect to see the same thing when the Penguins travel.

I’m fine with that idea. No teams in the division want to spend time in a hotel this year.

The Penguins will not share any affiliates prospects. It was announced that St. Louis (Springfield’s affiliate this year) will send some of their prospects to Utica. I didn’t see anything on where players from Charlotte or Milwaukee may go.

I will again go on record to state that this is a dumb idea, forced upon AHL teams to, “make it work” to ensure that their non-taxi squad players play these, what I am going to call glorified exhibition scrimmages for the sake of keeping them occupied. Sure, it is a great thing for the men and women who make the AHL teams operate off the ice to have something to do instead of twiddle their thumbs all day recycling GIFs and content for social media. I know my fair share of media, front office, ticketing and broadcasters who are likely thrilled and relieved that there is going to be a “season” to work on. But for the fan, the ones that pay the money to watch this, it’s not going to be a good product. Your top goaltender on every team is going to be on the NHL squad, and your six or seven (maybe more, depending on injuries) players are going to be with the NHL team on the taxi squad. So what’s left is AHL third and fourth liners as your top six, filled out with ECHL fodder filling out the rest of the lineup. Who wants to watch this?

I may change my mind and will likely re-examine my conscience a few times before the start of the shortened season. But I am leaning on scaling back whatever coverage I decide to dedicate to whatever becomes of these glorified exhibitions this season in the hopes that the Fall of 2021 brings some semblance of normalcy where we all can safely return to the rink and enjoy what we took for granted.

But in order to do that you have to wear your mask and stay the hell home if you are sick.

More as it comes, for now.

Meh…

Translated: We have a plan, we just don’t know what it is yet.

Who can play? What’s the schedule going to look like? Of the teams that are going to play, how many games are they going to play? Against who? Fans? Rosters? Playoffs?

Kind of important, don’t you think? But they don’t know yet, or if they do they aren’t telling us. The season starts five weeks this Friday. Tick tock…

Let me speculate:

  • Wilkes-Barre is part of the group that plays with all the other PA teams. They play in a division with Hershey, Lehigh Valley, Binghamton, Syracuse, Utica, Rochester and one of either Providence or Springfield. I don’t think that Hartford or Bridgeport play this season.
  • No fans allowed. Not that any sensible human being wouldn’t want to go to super spreader event such as an indoor hockey game where the COVID numbers are still out of control in the Commonwealth.
  • 42-48 games consisting of a lot of contests with Hershey and Lehigh Valley (10-15 each) and the rest filled out with 2-4 with the New York teams and one or two with either Springfield or Providence.
  • I took a two part stab the other day on Twitter on what the taxi squad for Pittsburgh may look like link of to there on who I think stays on the NHL roster.
  • Depending on who all plays, you may be looking at the top two or four teams in a division making playoffs or a tournament style playoff system.

Does this excite you? It doesn’t me. Who in their right mind wants to watch a watered down minor league product where all the teams are probably not going to play, behind closed doors?

It’s hard to get invested in a product like this, with a global, out of control pandemic still dangling over our heads.

This isn’t a case for or against piece, either. Remember you are paying money to watch this, money that a lot of people don’t have because, you know, pandemic and all. For me, the money might be well spent someplace else.

More, as it will come. Pandemic be damned.

Wear a mask and wash your hands.

Where Things Stand 12/19

‘Member when we used to average about seven posts a week in the month of December? Those were the days.

Anyway, the ‘will they, won’t they’ hot stove is heating up a bit in the hockey world, so here is where things stand when it comes to whether or not there will be a season.

First, in the AHL, still scheduled to start (tentatively) February 5.

This piece (paywalled) from The Athletic, outlines nicely what the plan is. If you don’t have a subscription, here are the key takeaways:

– They really, really, want to start on February 5. Take is as a make or break on a season, in my opinion. I don’t think there will be any more delays. If there are, you can fireball any hopes of a season

– “Unanswered questions” came up a lot in the piece. 

– The AHL will have more of a definitive plan once the NHL lays out theirs. More on that in a minute…

– Expect training camps around January 25. There may not be any exhibition games. 

– You are looking at about a 44-50 game schedule that goes to the end of May. They don’t want any more than three games a week.

– It is less and less likely that they will be played in front of any fans. I know in Luzerne County, home of the Penguins, has seen the highest COVID daily cases than any other county in the Northeast Region of Pennsylvania. There are even more cases in Lehigh County, home of the Phantoms. So even if you do have a season, you aren’t having it in front of any fans, safely.

– Rosters may look different. I didn’t think anything of this when I first read the piece Friday night, but new details emerged regarding the NHL later that evening. I’ll get to that in a minute.

– On the revenue side, there is “no realistic chance” to have fans in most of the AHL arenas. So where does the money come from? The sponsors like CCM, and convincing and getting people to buy into AHL TV. If people don’t want to do that (because, you know pandemic and lots of people out of work, so money spent elsewhere, like food) some teams may look to broadcast some games locally. 

News later broke Friday night that the NHL and the players reached a tentative deal to play a 56 game season starting January 13, pending other details. 

Some of those other details…

This can’t help AHL teams, having their star players on standby on an NHL roster. Yes, the AHL serves the NHL as its master, but boiling down to a watered down half hearted attempt of an AHL season in a can we or can’t we, one cough or sneeze away from postponing games like they are already doing in the ECHL, just two weeks into their season, can’t be good. 

I appreciate the efforts, I really do, but I am less and less invested into a season as the time passes. You need to get people vaccinated, beat back the daily counts of this virus, get people working again then come back bigger and better in October vs. rolling out a forced attempt of a season in front of nobody with watered down rosters.

Please wear a mask and get the vaccine when it is available to you.

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.