Ryan Krelin rides the Covid-19 roller coaster every day.
It looks good. It’s getting worse. The second wave is approaching. There will be no second wave, said Mr Krelin, Member of the EXL, a small professional ice hockey league based in the United States.
I mean, the facts are high these days, but it became clear to me that if there was a reasonable and responsible way to get back in the game in 2020-21, if we used our properties to do that, the players would definitely want to get back in the game and the fans would show their desire to have EXL hockey in their market. Kovid’s gone? I’m not gonna do that. Is this what we’re dealing with in the near future? Absolutely. But the harder you work, the more you learn. I think you can return to the game in a sensible and responsible way.
The Crelin League returns to the ice in December and interrupts the 2019-20 season due to the pandemic. He has participated in several conference calls between the National Hockey League and small leagues such as EXL, American Hockey League and South Professional Hockey League.
We certainly have a regular dialogue with other hockey leagues and organizations, both here in North America and in Europe, said NHL Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly at ESPN. We have made it necessary to share everything we have developed with other hockey organizations. We’re all together, and we’re going the same way.
The discussions were open and honest: about which teams refused to participate this season due to local restrictions on the number of supporters; about the loss of income, including money from local sponsors; and about what happens to the best plans if a player, coach or part of the team tests KOVID-19 during the season.
They have provided good support, equipment and access to their medical specialists. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have access to some of these documents, Krelin from the NHL said. We’re all going through the same thing. We all have the same problems. We may take a slightly different approach, but there is not a single aspect of our business that is not involved.
ESPN spoke to three junior ice hockey members – Craneleen, AHL president Scott Hauson and SFHL commissioner Doug Price – about their plans to revive the leagues this season, their concerns about the pandemic and their ability to do so.
American Hockey League
They should never say that Scott Haweson’s first season as president of the U.S. Hockey League was not memorable.
The former CEO Columbus Blue Jackets and Edmonton Oylers took office on 1 January 2009. July, about two months after the AHL canceled the rest of the 2019-20 regular season and the Calder Cup play-offs. In June, the league announced the return of the competition committee, consisting of NHL and AHL officials, which will help pave the way for 31 teams in the league to return to the ice.
Months later, Haweson does not know when these teams will return, where some of them will go or, perhaps more importantly, whether they will all return in the 2020-21 season.
I’m sure they all have a chance to make a decision, he told ESPN last week. I think a lot will depend on how the economy develops. I can’t tell you right now that I’m sure there’ll be 31 teams playing. But if you talk to all the teams, nobody talks: I don’t want to do this. Everyone is optimistic and will try to find a way to make the system work. But until we know the actual start date, the schedule, the type of trip, the arrangements between the NHL and AHL teams, it’s hard to say that everyone will participate. There are too many unknowns at the moment.
The provisional starting date for the LSA is 4 December, but Mr Houseon said that alternative plans will be presented to his board in the coming weeks.
We are approaching the fourth of December and the improvement in the performance of the fans has been minimal. The virus seems to be getting worse. The borders are still closed, he said. Maybe the fourth. December, it’s unrealistic to think our teams aren’t ready for this.
The AHL is the highest development competition in the NHL, so it cannot be too far out of step with the final senior cycle schedule. We’re not involved in any of those NHL level discussions about what they’re planning, whether it’s a modified bubble or something like that, Houseon said. It is not necessary to start on the same day, weekend or week. But we have to agree with them to a certain extent, so that when they leave, they have access to the players’ pool and their players can play.
Access to players is the main reason why AHL is considering temporarily moving (and transferring) its three franchises to Canada: Stockton Heath, the California subsidiary of Calgary Flames; Bakersfield Condors, also based in California, and Edmonton Oilers; and Utica Comets, the New York subsidiary of Vancouver Canucks. The offices of the AHL, which are part of the other four Canadian NHL teams, are already located in the country.
In other words: The AHL could have a full-Canadian team like the one the NHL is considering for next season.
It is strictly related to the line, what the line looks like when you start playing. And I think that’s probably true for the NHL too, right? If the border is open, they may not have to go to the pan-Canadian division. This is not what I signed up for. I prefer all our teams playing in all our markets, Houseon said. There’s no paint in here. It just doesn’t make sense, when the border is closed, to develop players in the United States that [teams] can’t catch in case of injuries or amnesia.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Given that the border between the US and Canada has been effectively closed as a result of COVID-19, there is currently a debate as to whether Utica comets will be part of the NHL in the near future. David Kiroak/Icons Sports Wire from Getty Images
Howson doesn’t talk about the minimum number of games needed to make next season legitimate in the eyes of players, teams and fans. His biggest concern is when the competition will start. All other details will be fine then.
It is more difficult to predict who will be able to attend these matches. Last season’s AHL home game had an average of 5538 fans, with Cleveland (9,043) in first place and Stockton (2,781) in second place.
Having only a certain capacity for fans in the building is a big, big problem for us, he said. If we don’t have it, it will limit some teams in their desire and ability to play.
Teams and arenas are already in contact with local authorities about the possibility of attending AHL home games next season, including a discussion about agreements against KOVID-19 to make this possible.
We now have seven markets that can receive people to varying degrees in the stands. We hope it gets better. But ticket sales are the biggest economic engine in the world, Houseon said.
Another problem is the sale of tickets, because many people who had sold them before were fired or put on unpaid leave when the season was suspended and then cancelled.
Many of our teams have fired their drivers, their sales staff, because now nobody thinks about season tickets anymore. Some of our teams keep the staff ready. Haweson said there was a big difference in the performance of the teams. Many of our teams will not only have to increase the number of people issuing tickets, but also the entire staff, if we know when to start.
The AHL works together with the Team Affairs department to determine when the teams should start racing this season and when they should start next season. In general, the first three months of the year are the most important period for the sale of season tickets and it is expected that the season 2020-21 will begin.
According to Houseon, the benefit now is for all North American hockey leagues to see how other professional sports leagues control the situation during the pandemic, from protocol tests to on-the-fly moves and changes when a team tests positive – such as the NFL, which has mixed up games in its schedule.
A minimal hockey league could do it. Or he can trade one opponent for another.
We have to think about it. We have to be flexible. We are not 100% on weekends, but we are very focused on the weekend. So there are days when you can lie there for a week and play games. It’s probably easier on our level than on others, Houseon said.
All options remain on the AHL table, which hopes to minimize the negative economic impact of a shortened season with a question mark in the column where presence is normally indicated.
We hope so. It is clear that our economy is different, both in terms of fan capacity and price and all that. We hope we can find a way to make it economically advantageous for everyone. So I wouldn’t say we’re just trying to come by, Houseon. But for some of our teams there is a certain amount. This year they will frown their eyebrows. It wouldn’t be fair. This could cost some teams money. Everyone has to face it.
While the AHL is waiting to see if all its teams will return by the 2020-21 season, the EXL has already twice decided not to participate in the voluntary dismissal policy of the KOVID-19 league, the existing provision in the EXL charter that allowed dismissal in 2020.
The first were the Atlanta Gladiators, a branch of the Boston Bruins, who met on 9 September. October refused to compete. In accordance with COVID-19 guidelines issued by the state and local authorities, the Infinite Energy Arena has introduced a capacity limit of 25% for all events with a strict social distance. As a company based on ticketing and sponsorship revenue, this capacity reduction severely limits the team’s ability to run a regular business. That led to a suspension, the team said.
The 20th. On 10 October the Norfolk Admirals waived this decision and General Manager Patrick Cavanagh described the decision as comprehensive. The current policy of COVID-19 in Virginia stipulates that only 1000 fans are allowed to attend the Admiral’s Games in the Scope Arena.
Both teams aim to return to the 2021-22 league.
What happens to players of teams who refused to participate? This season they’re gonna be free agents. EXL and the Professional Hockey Players Association are working on the significance of this free agency for the 2021-22 season and the eventual return of players to teams that refused to participate.
said Mr Crelin, the ECHL representative: We tried to formulate options for all our teams so that each could make its own decision. It’s certainly not standard protocol. But we want to go back to hockey. Each jurisdiction is a little different, so offering options to our teams seemed to us the best solution.
The EXL season 2020-21 therefore has two premiere nights. Thirteen of the eleven teams will compete against each other. In December, the season starts with 72 games, including three teams in Florida. The other teams of the 26. Team members who have not renounced their participation will be replaced after confirmation of their competence on the 15th day of the race. January 62. The competition has given the schedule until the 14th. January.
The league, which has worked with the HPA in this format, has not yet decided what the league will look like after the end of the season, except that the teams will be ranked on a percentage basis, given the difference in the number of games played.
I think it’s no secret when you look at the 13 teams that will play against 11. December is because their jurisdiction gives them some limited possibilities, said Créline, adding that the average turnout of the EXL is 4,500 fans per game, but that some teams are much more numerous than most home games. Last season the average number of fans was 4075 in Atlanta and 3203 in Norfolk.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Cyclones Cincinnati and Toledo Wally played on the 11. Run the game Empty Arena. The league hopes that some fans will be admitted to the building for the 2020-21 season games. Scott W. Grey/Icon Sportswire
One of the focal points of the EALC is local promotion.
I think it’s definitely something that has kept us busy all summer and will continue to do so, because it affects mom and dad, whose industry could have been as devastating as ours, Krelin said. So we’ve all got him. We knew that there would be sponsors who could not come back, and you know we have to be responsible and accountable for that.
But the alternative isn’t great either – if you miss an entire season and try to regain the support of the company after taking a year off. While we can certainly see that the economy has suffered and that some sectors have suffered more than others, we did not want to miss the opportunity to try to maintain our support for business in general this season.
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Although the local economy has suffered greatly for the teams, Crelin believes ECHL has always been a cheap entertainment option for these communities. To COVID we were a value proposition, and we claim to be, he said. The average price of our ticket is $16. We think that it is a very real value and we also look at disabilities and I want to tell you that the reaction of our fans has been very good.
EKHL fans, players and teams will also have to accept how much the pandemic will change.
The League has a domestic security mandate. ECHL and the actors are working on protocols that go beyond the object. Teams, arenas and local authorities are working to get the fans safely back into the arena. We want to take as many preventive measures as possible and then solve all the problems, Krelin said.
These include issues such as positive tests, which the Commissioner considers inevitable, given what is happening in the NFL and MLB, without air bubbles. He paid special attention to the NFL and how that competition offered KOVID-19 matches after positive tests. Instead of cancelling matches, the EXL group discussed the replacement of opponents for a number of weekends, e.g. when the travelling team cannot agree on a date. However, a number of factors must be taken into account, including the distance covered in the last match of the teams and other reserves that determine whether or not it is appropriate.
I think the word we’ve often used is a wise one, Créline said. Just say it anywhere: Yeah, we’ll use another team. Look at all the facts there. But you’re right: It’s gonna happen. So there will be delays. We may even have cancelled the games.
Less than two months before the planned start of the season at EKHL, we have an idea of which teams will and will not play, the division of the season and the match schedule until mid-January. It’s a start.
Although we’ve accomplished a lot so far, we haven’t dropped the puck yet. All we know is that there’s uncertainty around every corner, Creline says. I think the fear of the unknown will always be a threat throughout the season. Even if the vaccine is available, we still don’t know how many people will take it and what it will do in court. There’s no historical reference to this.
Creline believes she knows what it means for her franchises and their fans to get back on the ice. Part of who we are in our communities is running away from people and being able to have fun and be part of the healing process, he said. I think our communities need us now more than ever.
Southern Professional Ice Hockey League
Two teams refused to participate in the EKHL. In the Southern Professional Hockey League, five of their teams refused to participate in the 2020-21 season – a significant number for ten teams in the league.
In the second half of the summer, SPHL commissioner Doug Price started hearing teams say they refused to participate in the 2020-21 season.
When we saw that some states were more aggressive about reopening and others were really waiting, we had to face the reality that we wouldn’t have 10 teams, he told ESPN last week.
In the end we got five, he said, before we made a quick reservation: Well, now we have five. You never know what might happen.
The Birmingham Bulls, Huntsville Hawk, Knoxville Ice Bears, Macon Mayhem and Pensacola The Ice Flyers will play in their 42nd regular season. The format of the SPHL after the season has yet to be determined. The season starts on the 26th. December. We have a lot of teams that want to play between Christmas and New Year this week. It gives us that week of vacation, which helps us push back the weekend, especially with shorter hours and all that, Price said. I had to make nine different versions of the game plan with different numbers of teams and different start times. The more things happen with KOVID, the longer we can wait and we thought it would be better for us if everything went according to plan.
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Five teams seem to be right about Price. We wanted to make sure we didn’t have a championship with three teams only playing together on weekends, he said. It wouldn’t be good for the fans or the teams.
All players who are on the list of defenders or who have registered with these teams for training camps and who have refused to participate in training will become free agents. Five teams that have refused to participate in the league will keep the rights of their players on the protected list for the 2021-22 season.
The prize said the SFHL was considering a design among five active teams, but instead decided to give players the chance to become free players this season. We really wanted to make sure we gave them the chance to play this season, but we also wanted to make sure that the teams that have retained those players’ rights well have the opportunity to send them back when they return to the championship in 2021-22, he said.
Price believes that the quality of ice hockey in SPHL this season will be exceptional, as the pool of players is deeper and can get even deeper with players from colleges whose conferences are inactive. But this influx of players has also leaked out, as teams have to throw away players who have been waiting for their return to make way for the wrestlers.
It’s a delicate balance. According to Price, the teams will have to choose between the boys they hired in the summer and those who might be available for them from [the opt-out teams]. I think you’ll see their mixture: Given that players can return to their home team, you won’t want 8 to 10 players to be able to return next year. So maybe it’s not those big star teams.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Huntsville Hawk is one of the five SPHL teams that want to play this season. Greg Wyszynski
The SPHL has an average of 3145 supporters per home game. The teams that decided to return this season felt comfortable with their individual skills as they worked in their arenas and under the restrictions imposed by local and state authorities. Pensacola’s Ice Flyers, for example, target 3,000 to 300 fans with social distance, including the use of pods in the crowd, as we’ve seen in the MLB and NFL. Last season, the team had an average of 3647 fans.
They could try it in a market if they only had 2,000 fans. In another market, they may have to get closer to 3,000 to justify the game, Price said. The hope is that with the end of winter, [capacity] will also increase. At the moment there are a lot of projections.
Like EXL, SPHL derives most of its revenue from ticket sales and local sponsorship. The latter takes care of the price. It was a mixed bag. Millions of companies are clearly affected, he said. There were small parent companies in our local markets that were important sponsors of our teams and fought the pandemic. Our teams understand this very well in their work this season and beyond.
We don’t want this year’s teams to do their best and have no chance of succeeding or going financially bankrupt, but to return to their worst form next season. It’s gonna be one of those weird seasons where you have to do the right thing.
The SPHL is the responsibility of the Gaming Commission, which consists of several governors and Price. John Sapp, one of the owners of Macon, an orthopedic surgeon who wrote the COWID 19 protocols for his practice and influenced the competition.
Like most leagues, we’ve put together a long list of what the teams need, Price said. The question is not whether, but when, the [positive test] should be addressed and a way should be found to get it done.
This includes the planned postponement of the games, as the NFL has done.
We have to be flexible. If the team can’t play for any reason, can we put someone else on the team? Our teams are close enough together to do a flip-flop at the weekend, or the road team is the home team. We just need to keep our options open, Mr Price said.
Limiting these possibilities – not only for SPHL, but also for other small leagues in the United States – increases accessibility. It’s funny, even though we have hockey teams there, we always come across concerts. All the concerts and events that have been suspended with us, they are all looking for early dates in 2021, so they overlap with us, said Price. To be honest, the proceeds of the big concert are going to decrease considerably what we do with the reduced performance. That’s what we were dealing with.
The price is approaching this season with optimism, as it is assumed that the SPHL, if it can survive the winter and play in spring, can increase the number of seats. Pensacola is sold out in March and April. It’s hard to say. But for the teams seated, those numbers just didn’t move enough, he said.
There are cities that are similar to ours in EXL and may not have enough fans to get ahead. It’s the same with the American League. We’re all in the same boat.
These competitions and the NHL swim together in unknown waters.
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