clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

OHL and AHL announce first possible season start dates in February

New, comments

The NHL continues on a very slow and deliberate process of planning for the 2021 season.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Peterborough Petes v Oshawa Generals Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Both the AHL and OHL Boards of Governors met on Wednesday and set tentative dates for the next season, both picked early February. The AHL plans are not really plans, at least not publicly. They are dependant on what the NHL chooses to do and on border issues. The OHL has most of the details sketched in for their season.

OHL and the rest of the CHL

The OHL has three teams in the USA, and will have to come up with some plan to deal with that border issue.

The “contact issue” alluded to here is a statement made by the Ontario Minister for Sport, Lisa MacLeod, in early October:

“It would be safe to say that body contact, unless it’s incremental, will not be permitted as a result of COVID-19,” said MacLeod. “That would pose a challenge in terms of how they amend their play.”

One assumes the word incremental is a misquote or a malapropism for incidental.

Since that astonishing announcement, there has been no talk at all from OHL teams on this topic. No one has publicly behaved as if they believe this will come to pass, and the report above is further evidence of that. No evidence has ever been presented that this concept would make playing safer.

Unlike the government of Quebec, the Ontario government isn’t offering financial aid to OHL teams. The Quebec Sports Minister leveraged their financial aid to induce the QMJHL to make significant rule changes to reduce fighting. This was never presented as a virus-mitigating strategy, and the QMJHL presents a public position that they weren’t influenced by the millions of dollars in aid.

The OHL plans should be considered firmer than the AHL’s announced intentions, but they still have a lot of questions to answer between now and February. The WHL announced a similar plan in mid-October, to begin in early January with their US-based teams playing in a separate division.

The QMJHL is currently playing games in the Atlantic provinces only, with a temporary suspension of games in Quebec. Some play is expected to resume there this weekend, but teams in Coronavirus hotspots may have to wait to play. That is largely up to the government, not the league.

UPDATE:

The Ontario Minister has insisted they really mean to have the OHL play a no bodychecking game, and has made claims that they are trying to prevent disease outbreaks. She cites outbreaks in the QMJHL.

The CDC released an extensive study on the transmission of the virus at a hockey game in Tampa:

There is nothing in their report to indicate that a lack of bodychecking would make the game safer:

The ice rink provides a venue that is likely well suited to COVID-19 transmission as an indoor environment where deep breathing occurs, and persons are in close proximity to one another. An Italian study estimating the rate of SARS-CoV-2 emission by infectious persons based on viral load in the mouth showed that during heavy exercise, a high viral emission rate can be reached during oral breathing (6). The higher proportion of infected players on the index patient’s team might result from additional exposures to the index patient in the locker room and on the player bench, where players sit close to one another.

UPDATE 2:

It’s very much starting to look like the initial view was the correct view. One Minister is making statements with no foundation to them.

AHL

The AHL released a possible start date of February 5.

The league has previously said they need about two months lead time to form a schedule, so they would need clarity by early December on border rules, NHL intentions, and the very thorny issue of NHL teams in Canada with AHL teams in the US.

The “pilot project” referred to is a test of Coronavirus rapid tests in lieu of the 14-day isolation rules for incoming travellers. The OHL plan clearly isn’t counting on that being in place, although it could come to Toronto if it is a success in Calgary.

NHL

The NHL is still sitting with their proposed earliest start date of January 1, and a desire to have an 82-game season as their preference. Neither is very likely to happen.

In a recent Insider Trading, the next few steps in negotiating the 2021 season were laid out. For readers who didn’t follow this process as the NHL and NHLPA negotiated the playoffs, here’s a map through the acronyms:

The NHLPA, the players’ association, represents all players on NHL contracts. All are subject to the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which is negotiated between the NHLPA and the NHL. The current CBA from 2012 is still in effect, amended and extended by the Memo of Understanding (MOU) that was ratified in early July.

The MOU set out virtually no rules for the coming season beyond a tentative start date that has already been moved to January 1, 2021.

The NHLPA has a representative on each of the 31 NHL teams, and together they form the Executive Board. That Executive approves any agreements with the NHL first, before they are voted on by the entire membership. They just met on Tuesday for the first time since the playoffs.

The NHL has a Board of Governors (BOG) which is made up of an ownership representative from each NHL team and who vote on things on the NHL side. They had a meeting last Friday.

The BOG and the Executive Board of the NHLPA have together formed a committee of a reduced number of their members to hash out the details on the 2021 season. This is the same process they used as a Return to Play committee in the summer, and it likely contains some of the same people.

That committee has not met yet. Insider Trading reported that the next step after the meeting of the Executive Board is that the NHLPA is going to have team-by-team meetings with all 31 teams to answer player questions and get feedback.

As now has been reported by TVA and TSN, the NHLPA believes that the MOU deal they agreed to guaranteed that full NHL salaries would be paid for 2021, less the 20% Escrow and then less 10% salary deferral. That leaves the NHL players with 72% of the face value of the salary on their contracts no matter what.

However, the CBA contains the Standard Player Contract (SPC) which is what every player signs to become an NHL-contracted player. It includes a provision to reduce the salary of a player if a reduced number of games is scheduled.

17. If because of any condition arising from a state of war or other cause beyond the control of the League or of the Club, it shall be deemed advisable by the League or the Club to suspend or cease or reduce operations, then:

(a) in the event of suspension of operations, the Player shall be entitled only to the proportion of Paragraph 1 Salary due at the date of suspension,

(b) in the event of cessation of operations, the Paragraph 1 Salary shall be automatically canceled on the date of cessation, and

(c) in the event of reduction of operations, the Paragraph 1 Salary shall be replaced by that mutually agreed upon between the Club and the Player, or, in the absence of mutual agreement, by that determined by neutral arbitration.

This issue is going to have to be resolved before any kind of schedule, process or plan for safety is discussed.

The 2021 committee, once it begins meeting, will then have to come up with a plan to put to a vote out of the several scenarios the NHL is developing, per Insider Trading, that will work within all the rules, and satisfy the players’ needs for safety and security of their income. All talk of a Canadian Division is just speculation at this time, but it is clear why it might have to be done or done to start the season.

NHL training camps take approximately three weeks, and the NHL has reportedly told the teams who were not in the playoffs in July, that they will get an extended camp to compensate for their long layoff. To start playing NHL hockey on January 1, training camp would start for some on December 1 at least. It is extremely difficult to believe that the NHL and the NHLPA would get to a vote on a 2021 season format in one month. But they might have a training camp protocol by then, since that can just get cribbed from the last one.

No one should consider any date a league tells you they will play on as anything more than an “earliest possible start” date from now until we have something like a framework between the NHL and the NHLPA to agree to the big issues.

Except the ECHL, that is.

They’re happy to announce they’re playing games in some of the worst US Coronavirus hotspots in six weeks. They have issued no information whatsoever about how they plan to keep their players safe, but it is expected most arenas will sell tickets to whatever capacity of fans are allowed.