AHL targets Feb. 5 for start of coronavirus-delayed 2020-21 season – Press Enterprise

The American Hockey League said Wednesday it would target Feb. 5 for the start of its coronavirus-delayed 2020-21 season, a delay of more than two months from its initial return-to-play plan and a possible hint of a further delay of the NHL’s opening night.

The AHL, the top developmental league for the NHL, originally said it would resume play Dec. 4. AHL commissioner Scott Howson made the announcement after the league’s board of governors met earlier Wednesday. There was no mention of whether fans would be allowed to attend games.

The 31-team minor league includes the Ontario Reign and the San Diego Gulls, the top affiliates for the NHL’s Kings and Ducks. The AHL and the NHL suspended play in mid-March because of the coronavirus outbreak in North America. The NHL returned to complete its season last month.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press he didn’t expect the AHL’s decision to impact the NHL’s opening night. The NHL has targeted Jan. 1, but it’s expected that it could be delayed by several weeks or perhaps longer after an initial forecast of Dec. 1 was pushed back.

“The NHL, they’re (looking) at sometime in January,” Howson told the AP. “We aren’t tied directly to what the NHL does, but we want to be somewhat in sync, so Feb. 5 seemed like a good place even if there’s going to be a little longer gap than usual between the two league’s starting.”

The question of whether to allow fans to attend games is one of several key issues that must be resolved. Unlike the other pro sports leagues in North America, hockey relies almost exclusively on ticket and concession sales rather than lucrative TV contracts to generate revenue.

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What’s more, and perhaps equally important, the United States-Canada border remains closed because of the pandemic, prompting talk of an all-Canadian division in the NHL if players, coaches and staff members are still forced to quarantine for 14 days upon entering Canada after play resumes.

Four of the NHL’s seven Canadian-based teams have their AHL teams located in Canada, but Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver have U.S.-based minor-league clubs, which could force the Flames (Stockton), Oilers (Bakersfield) and Canucks (Utica, New York) to relocate their clubs north of the border temporarily.

The Reign and Gulls play in the seven-team Pacific Division along with Bakersfield, Colorado (Avalanche), Stockton, San Jose (Sharks) and Tucson (Coyotes).