The Status of Hockey - Return to Play "Start Dates" by League

Every day I spend hours on the phone with staff from the various levels of professional and developmental hockey leagues throughout the US and Canada. HSM Hockey needs to keep up with what is happening so that we can lineup the resources necessary to continue our support for the leagues and teams by way of a full service buy back program.

It occurred to me that a brief point form summary on the status of return to play by league might be pretty interesting to share with our followers, so here is a summary of where everything stands;   

NHL

  • Targeted Start Date - Wed Jan 13 
  • On Dec 23 (Merry Christmas) the NHL announced a 56 game schedule with playoffs ending in July 
  • There will be a 7 team all Canadian division and three 8 team US divisions 
  • NHL owners expect to operate the league with the expectation that they are going to lose millions of dollars. Details of how the finances play out are ongoing between the NHL and NHLPA. Both parties really want to make some sort of a season work 
  • The NHL does not want 2020-21 to interfere with the operation of 2021-22
  • Teams that didn't participate in the 24 team playoff format can host an optional camp one week earlier
  • Winter Classic and All Star Weekend cancelled 
  • It has been reported that some NHL teams are exploring the option of hosting outdoor home games in order to accommodate fans 

AHL 

  • Targeted Start Date - Feb 5 2021
  • Statement from AHL on Dec 30, 2020 - “The American Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the structural framework for an AHL season that will begin on February 5, 2021. “Details are still being worked out, but this step allows our teams and their National Hockey League partners to better determine their plans for the coming season. We look forward to dropping the puck on Feb. 5.”
  • The AHL is largely a gate driven revenue league, therefore the functionality for the 2020-21 will be focused on player supply and development for the NHL. 
  • NHL teams own 19 of 31 AHL clubs 
  • 12 AHL farm teams are independently owned from their NHL affiliate 
  • It is presumed that the AHL will need NHL financial assistance to operate in 2020-21 
  • Vancouver (Utica), Calgary (Stockton), and Edmonton (Bakersfield) all have their AHL affiliates in the US which will likely require a mandatory 14 day quarantine for call-ups 
  • Several other US teams have affiliates in other States that may require isolation and testing in order to travel from State to State 

ECHL 

  • Targeted Start Date - Dec 11
  • Teams participating in 2020-21 schedule (13)- Allen Americans, Florida Everblades, Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Indy Fuel, Jacksonville Icemen, Kansas City Mavericks, Orlando Solar Bears, Rapid City Rush, South Carolina Stingrays, Tulsa Oilers, Utah Grizzies, Wheeling Nailers, Wichita Thunder 
  • Teams opting out of 2020-21 season (8) - Cincinnati Cyclones, Idaho Steelheads, Kalamazoo Wings, Maine Mariners, Newfoundland Growlers, Norfolk Admirals, Reading Royals, Worcester Railers
  • Teams starting play in Feb 2021 (2) - Fort Wayne Komets, Toledo Walleye 

 NCAA 

  • Big 10 - Season underway (Nov 13) with a plan to play a 24 game conference schedule plus host four games each against Arizona State. All league teams participating. 
  • Hockey East - Season underway (Nov 20) with a plan to play a condensed 20 game (Women - 18 game) schedule with minimal travel and flex weekends towards the end.  Vermont, Northeastern, BU, Maine, UMass Lowell are all currently on pause 
  • ECAC - Season underway (Nov 22) with Clarkson, Colgate, Quinnipiac, and St. Lawrence. The Ivy League announced on Nov 12 that they were cancelling all winter sports (Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale), followed by RPI and Union a few days later
  • Atlantic Hockey - Season underway (Nov 13) with 24-28 games allowable for each institution and separated into a Eastern Pod (AIC, Army, Bentley, Holy Cross, and Sacred Heart) and a Western Pod (Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT, and Robert Morris) to reduce travel. Consisting of 5 games each against each pod member, 2 games against Air Force, and two games against Long Island University. To date there have been some games postponed or cancelled due to Covid protocols 
  • WCHA - Season underway Nov 20 with an 18 game league schedule and a total of 38 games each in total. Most games will be remain in conference. Alaska Anchorage has opted out of the 2020-21 season and Ferris State, Alaska Nanooks, and Northern Michigan have yet to play a game. 
  • NCHC - Season underway Dec 1 with a 26 game conference schedule announced.  Divisions setup by East and West to reduce travel and cross division matchups are taking place in a "pod setting". All league teams are participating. 

QMJHL 

  • Play suspended Dec 1.
  • Targeted Re-start Date - Jan 17 - Jan 20 
  • Season began in Oct and teams have averaged between 10-15 games 
  • Fans were able to take in the games in the Maritime provinces (seeing as many as 2200+ in attendance
  • Return to play is based on two plans; Plan A - allowing the season to resume with interprovincial travel. Plan B - A bubble format with a handful of teams in select cities. 

OHL 

  • Targeted start date Feb 4
  • Camp start dates are planned for Jan 23, no schedule is available there is a tone of uncertainly throughout the league 
  • 40 game regular season were teams will primarily play against other teams in their region 
  • Strict health regulations in Canada/Ontario may limit cross border travel for the US based teams and force the OHL to play without body contact 
  • Eight teams will quality for playoffs that they hope to get underway May 11 on road to the Memorial Cup which will be hosted in either Oshawa or Sault. Ste. Marie starting June 17

WHL 

  • Targeted Start Date - Jan 8 
  • Scheduled start date pushed back a few times with uncertainly now surrounding the Jan 8th date. 
  • Western League travel is a big issue, therefore they have announced big schedule changes whereby all games will be exclusively within their own division

 World Junior Hockey Championships 

  • Targets Start Date - Dec 25 - Jan 5 in Edmonton, AB
  • Pre-Tournament games start on Dec 20 
  • Countries that have qualified in Group A include - Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Slovakia, and Germany, Group B includes - Russia, Sweden, US, Czech Republic and Austria  

World Championship 

  • Targeted Start Date - May 21 - June 6 
  • Hosted in Belarus and Latvia 
  • Schedule and details still need to be worked out
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