On Wednesday, March 18, the OHL and the WHL joined the QMJHL in cancelling their regular seasons.
The wording is important here, as they have left the door open to play playoffs, and presumably, the Memorial Cup at a future date if that becomes possible.
The AHL, after rumours they would cancel everything like the ECHL did, have gone the suspended animation route, the same as the NHL.
USHL Cancels Remainder of Season Due to COVID-19 pic.twitter.com/8PKWH4diCC— USHL (@USHL) March 18, 2020
All other hockey leagues have cancelled their playoffs as well, with the exception of the KHL and their related leagues, the VHL (second tier equivalent to the AHL) and the MHL (junior league).
The KHL appeared to be going to go ahead with the second round of their playoffs, set to begin on March 17, but they were forced to suspend play until April 10 by the Ministry of Sport. This came after the other non-Russian team in the playoffs, Barys Nur-Sultan withdrew. Jokerit Helsinki pulled out a few days before.
The KHL has since been discussing various playoff formats with the six remaining teams, but there are now reports that one of the Russian teams is a dissenting voice:
Ak Bars petitions the KHL to end the season early. Players are becoming increasingly vocal, and many imports (even those already eliminated) are struggling to get home. Will be interesting to see the impact of pressure applied by a domestic club. https://t.co/wPy9C5HKH0— Gillian Kemmerer (@gilliankemmerer) March 18, 2020
The Ak Bars Kazan club is home to Leafs draft pick Vladislav Kara, pictured up above, and he has been playing in the VHL playoffs up until March 16.
The situation with players on team that have been eliminated is complicated. As Gillian Kemmerer explains, some KHL teams keep practising through to the end of April 30, which is when contracts expire. Most KHL teams have some foreign players, and on Russian teams, that means anyone not from Russia or Belarus. Canadians make up most of the foreign contingent, followed by Finns (some large number of whom play for Jokerit where they are based at home).
Avangard (under Bob Hartley) released all players, staff and coaches yesterday - were scheduled to resume practices after elimination. Lokomotiv (under Mike Pelino) currently on their break, but return for spring camp is questionable. https://t.co/JlTOuuJqCP— Gillian Kemmerer (@gilliankemmerer) March 18, 2020
The training camp for the new KHL season begins in July, so they are on a very different calendar to North American hockey, and have less time to fit in the playoffs.
The IIHF also cancelled all their April events, which covers most of the hockey events before the autumn, with one exception: The Men’s Worlds scheduled for early May in Switzerland is not yet off the calendar.
A Finnish newspaper reported that the event definitely will be cancelled and that the IIHF and the tournament organizers are in negotiations with the insurance company to settle on some kind of payment. There has been speculation that the delay is due to Switzerland not yet extending their public gathering ban into May.
With the chances of even the stubborn KHL continuing their playoffs getting dimmer, it looks like the five North American leagues are the only ones left in suspended animation.
They are all financially lucrative enterprises, with even the AHL — likely the least successful — generating decent gate revenue in some cities. The AHL seems like the league most likely to call it quits without playoffs, however, but the NHL and the three leagues of the CHL have big financial incentives in ticket sales and TV revenue to play their playoffs. They won’t give up until they have no other choice. And that means suspended animation will continue for quite some time.