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Friday’s FTB: Is the OHL season DOA?

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No fans, no body contact, no season?

Sudbury Wolves v Oshawa Generals Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Good morning Toronto Maple Leafs fans, and those who stumbled here by accident. With the Stanley Cup awarded and the NHL draft less than a week away, we have some more news to hit so let’s not waste any time.

One of the bigger stories from yesterday is the possibility of the Ontario government requiring the Ontario Hockey League to extremely restrict contact between opposing players if they want to be allowed to resume play for the 2020-21 season. The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League resumed play this week, and their biggest change came to the fighting rules.

The QMJHL wanted $20 million in support from the government, and they needed to change these rules to get the cash. The full rule changes are:

The Ontario Hockey League hasn’t come out to the Ontario government hat in hand just yet, as they weren’t planning to start play in December, but with this move by the QMJHL we could see a similar style of rule change here if the OHL wants it’s own cut of COVID-19 relief.

Related:

TSN’s Rick Westhead reported yesterday that Ontario Health Minister Lisa MacLeod stated the government stated a fighting ban could be put in place if they resume play, and even possibly banning all contact between players. You can read the full twitter thread here.

Other highlights from this interview include:

  • The US based teams in Flint, Erie, and Saginaw would have to relocate to Ontario for the year as cross border travel is still restricted.
  • There is no plan to allow spectators at all in the arenas.
  • The league has no plan regarding player testing.
  • All minor and recreational hockey is at risk of being shut down as cases climb and labs remain backlogged with tests.

The two big sticking points on the OHL season are the contact and the fans. If you can’t come into contact with the opposing players how do you....play hockey? Even in a non-contact league, you have to get up close and personal with someone to take the puck away. If we’re just talking body checking and board play being eliminated, it’s going to be a painful transition to this style of play; these players have played this way all their lives to get to this level.

The off-ice issue is having no fans. In junior and minor leagues there are no TV deals to keep the lights on like the NHL had. Sportsnet calls itself a broadcast partner of all three major junior leagues, (questionable if you look at their TV schedule), but they won’t be paying enough to help every team survive. This is a gate driven league, and they need to fill the seats to make the money.

From a TSN article about player compensation in 2017:

The documents show that in the fiscal year ending May 31, 2014, the IceDogs generated $2.8 million in revenue, resulting in a loss of $103,093.

Months later, the team left the 3,100-seat Jack Gatecliff Arena and moved into a new home rink, the 5,300-seat Meridian Centre in St. Catharines. That move led to a 50 per cent increase in revenue, from $2.8 million in 2014 to $4.2 million in 2015 and a profit of $438,679.

The IceDogs’ revenue climbed to $4.6 million in 2016, generating a profit of $643,544, even after paying $182,221 toward player education scholarships.

If the numbers are correct (but when do we ever trust accounting in the entertainment industry), the team only became profitable when they moved to a new arena (higher prices) than could hold almost twice the amount of fans (in 2016 the average attendance was roughly 88% capacity of the arena). The money is in the tickets, the concessions, and the merchandise. Without fans, there’s no chance to make any money.

With Ontario beginning to slowly tighten public and private gathering limits once again, things aren’t looking good for any chance at having even 50 people in the arena, let alone 5,000. In youth hoc key news, the East York Hockey Association just shut down their season.

Another good point:

Can cities bear the brunt of operating costs on the arenas? Teams pay leases, however these are usually team friendly deals and don’t fully cover costs. With cities laying off staff, how irresponsible would it be to use funds to run an empty arena?

The major leagues had the money to bubble their sport into one or two central locations to maintain player and staff safety while continuing to play out their seasons. Minor leagues are admitting they won’t be playing any time soon - the AHL is already suggesting the season could be pushed back to February - and junior leagues also could face the music and either shut down play (QMJHL) or flat out cancel the season (OHL, WHL, USHL).

I should mention that in the Maritimes, cases are still very low and things have been going along much better than they are in the Rest of Canada. So much better that the teams out east are considering allowing fans into the arenas.

In other junior news Morgan Rielly’s former WHL team the Moose Jaw Warriors are redesigning their logo:

Now we just need to work on the QMJHL’s Shawinigan Cataractes.

Speaking of leagues that won’t play, The Toronto NWHL team has a new home:

Yesterday I sold out once again:

Other Maple Leafs news:

And around the NHL:

And finally, SB Nation is conducting it’s annual Mock draft. Here are picks 1-5:

1st overall - New York Rangers - Alexis Lafreniere

2nd overall - Los Angeles Kings - Quinton Byfield

3rd overall - Ottawa Senators - Lucas Raymond

4th overall - Detroit Red Wings - Tim Stutzle

5th overall - Ottawa Senators - Marco Rossi

That’s all I have. Enjoy your Friday and weekend everyone!