SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Not even 48 hours removed from emerging details regarding the start of the 2020-21 AHL regular season, the league’s Board of Governors (BOG) went ahead and cleared the conjecture up on Thursday.
The BOG held their 2020 Annual Meeting via conference call during the late morning / early afternoon on July 30. Their conclusion regarding next hockey season? Let’s wait ’til December. The official press release from the league lines out the board’s logic.
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.
The most important word in the league’s statement is anticipated. So many factors remain up in the air for the American Hockey League, even with a delayed start that coincides more readily with the National Hockey League’s regular season beginning December 1.
Will the AHL bring teams to a “bubble” like the NHL has done for the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Will there be fans allowed at games, and if so, what arena capacity percentage will be permitted? How will AHL teams afford and administer COVID-19 tests every day? Will the NHL parent clubs help foot the bill for all these accommodations?
Patrick Williams, an AHL correspondent for NHL.com, also pointed out the international aspect of these decisions and how it will be contingent on how states & provinces handle the pandemic at a local level.
Lots of speculation out there from non-AHL circles.
The AHL is not the NHL, and I would be wary of making any hard-and-fast predictions.
The health situation changes daily. Quite a bit is dependent on government directives at several different levels (and this virus).
— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsAHL) July 30, 2020
Another observation came from Inside AHL Hockey’s Tony Androckitis, who put the December 4 start date into perspective and pointed to comments made by then-Commissioner Dave Andrews over three months ago.
All we know now is that AHL hockey won't be played in October or November.
Today's announcement certainly doesn't lock them into a December 4th start.
I'll circle back to this Dave Andrews quote from his Sirius XM radio spot in late April.
This is one of the "trigger points" pic.twitter.com/UpV7BFZi96
— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) July 30, 2020
In reality, the tentative decision to start the regular season in early December does nothing if not buy time for the AHL to work through the intricacies of a global pandemic whilst profitably running a professional sports league. Like the rest of the world, the AHL will take matters day-by-day, adjusting to the fallout of COVID-19.
I spoke with Patrick Williams one-on-one to get his final take on the matter before writing this article. I made a comment that we’re all just kind of playing the waiting game and “winging it” as we go along.
He responded: “Winging it will be the name of the game for at least a few months.”
Well, let’s at least enjoy the ride. It’s going to be an interesting journey on the way to the “anticipated” December 4 start date.