Now that the NHL’s top minor league has canceled its remaining regular season schedule and Calder Cup Playoffs amid the discontinuation of the Coronavirus, one closed topic has raised some open questions about player development, availability of prospects for a potential NHL – return and both leagues’ status for the 2020-21 season.
The Kings ‘American Hockey League partner, the Ontario Reign and the Ducks’ club, the San Diego Gulls, were among the 31 franchises whose governors unanimously voted to play the game for the remainder of the 2019-20 regular season and play- cancel offs.
“Everyone is disappointed today because the reality was that we don’t play playoff hockey,” said Kevin Dineen, head coach of Gulls.
But the things of hockey are marching on, in limited form, as teams don’t want to hinder prospect development, see deterioration in player conditioning, or rule out the possibility that some of their prospects contribute to the parent clubs if the NHL finds a way resume play and end this season.
“These are unusual times and we are in the unfortunate but necessary situation that the rest of the AHL season will be canceled,” said Glen Murray, Kings Development Director of Kings. “Since all this started, we have been working closely with our strength and conditioning staff to ensure that we guide our players to ensure their health and safety in the first place, and to monitor their progress to ensure they continue to focus on their conditioning, off-ice skills training and doing the right things to improve their individual development. ”
Both teams remained in the playoff hunt when play was interrupted. San Diego seemed ready not only for a playoff berth, but possibly for a dark horse push as they had shed a turbulent start to become one of the league’s soaring squads.
“As we played towards the end, we were very excited about a long playoff run,” said Dineen. “We felt like we were heading in the right direction and in the playoffs we would have been a formidable opponent for whom we also encountered.”
Although no player on the ducks or gulls tested positive or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19, the decision to cancel was factored into the health of the players, coaches, arena staff, fans, and local citizens. It also took into account unknown issues such as travel restrictions, transportation safety, and competing with various government contracts in AHL cities, said Matt Savant, business executive Matt Savant.
Savant said he could not disclose figures in terms of potential losses from the cancellation, but that the gulls were a “small business” that would undoubtedly incur losses from tickets, concessions, merchandise and other income streams. He said that while refunds were offered to fans, the team encouraged season ticket holders to carry that money over to next season.
Like the NHL, the AHL has been forced to consider several alternatives, such as playing games with fewer or no fans at all, and tinkering with scheduling options to accommodate the vast array of dates on which it becomes possible to host large gatherings and public events. Neither league is entirely certain when the 2020-21 season would begin, as government restrictions and health problems could possibly linger in the next season, or play the training camp in the summer and the start of next season in a complex but encouraging circumstance.
Meanwhile, the NHL has yet to resolve questions about the 2019-20 season, and a possible shortened schedule for the regular season, playoffs or both means extended rosters could become a clear possibility. Even in a normal campaign, AHL players are often brought up during the playoffs. That could be as emergency calls on an individual basis or in large groups once they have been eliminated from the Calder Cup playoffs to join the team as ‘black aces’, serving as practice players, observers and possible substitutes for injured players from the parent club.
Dineen said Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins had contacted the Gulls’ players and an adapted regime was quickly implemented. Players stretched, did yoga, lifted weights, and performed cardio routines. However, there was one complication that affected the players on the Gulls, Reign and almost every competitor in the sport.
“No ice age. The ice rink is largely off-limits. As for the San Diego area, there is no ice here, ”Dineen said. “From the conversations I’ve had with all of our players, they’re on their strength and conditioning program, but they’re not on the ice.”
Despite all the uncertainty – from reports today that there are likely to be home orders through Los Angeles county through July – there were no concerns about player malaise, atrophy, or lack of activity. That’s because of the communication with players and the dedication to create routines that keep them in shape even when there is no competition.
“No means have been left untried. That’s the one thing that this organization really prioritized, to make sure that when we hit the ice, we’re ready to roll, ”Dineen said.