For the past few weeks, this has not been the way David Andrews envisioned the end of his 26th and final season at the helm of the American Hockey League as president and chief executive officer.
Especially having to announce on Monday that the Calder Cup would not be awarded for the first time in 83 years of league history. The AHL playoffs were a fixture in the professional hockey calendar, taking place during the Second World War and an NHL season canceled in 2004-05.
“To be honest, I have been so busy every day working with our teams and partners that I haven’t even really had time to think [my exit]Said Andrews Monday.
Andrews said the AHL has focused instead on contingency planning for the 2020-21 season, before former Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson became CEO on July 1.
“We are actively developing our 2020-2021 calendar using the typical October-April calendar. We hope to put that on the table by mid-July,” said Andrews. “But we are also modeling departures later in November, December and January with shorter hours so that we can go to the teams with models. “
This is the key question each NHL team asks: what if the AHL is not ready to start the 2020-21 season?
While the NHL may be willing to play without fans in the building, the AHL simply does not have a viable source of external revenue for franchises to operate without the gate produced by ticket sales, concessions, parking and the goods.
Even though the NHL teams line up 30 players instead of the usual maximum of 23, a likely target given the pandemic and health concerns, the teams still want to know where and how the rest of their outlook will continue to develop.
“This is just speculation right now, but I think we are all considering alternative competitive formats that could be a potential workaround for a limited period until the AHL can restart,” said John Ferguson Jr. of the Boston Bruins. GM assistant who is general manager of the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
Ferguson suggested that with Providence located less than a two hour drive from three other AHL clubs in Springfield, Hartford and Bridgeport, a mini-game or scrum could be arranged with limited travel and no need for stay in hotels.
Since most COVID-19 restart plans are local, Andrews said the AHL “must be prepared to support an earlier start to the season for some teams” and that the league will have to figure out how to play a “game meaningful “for each team.
“This is all at stake,” said Andrews. “We have a task force in place with the NHL GMs, AHL managers, league partners, who will all come together to start answering some of these questions. We hope we won’t be delayed enough to need some of these measures, but there is so much uncertainty – even for the NHL. “
Player development is a big issue, said Andrews, as is business development. This is where the work of Andrews – and soon Howson – becomes difficult.
Just as AHL teams in the west would be hampered by the geographic flexibility afforded by the northeast, the commercial operations of each franchise vary considerably.
Andrews said that 19 of the 31 AHL franchises are owned by the parent NHL club, while 12 are independently owned. Three of these NHL club franchises (Hartford, Binghamton and Utica) are operated by a third party. Andrews has therefore stated that the true split between true AHL clubs owned by NHL teams and those managed by third parties is 16-15.
In other words, half of the league can see the start-up and associated costs differently.
“We’ve been working on these different motivations for a long time,” said Andrews. “Both have a lot to say. But given the nature of this situation, more flexibility may be required from some of these groups. “
Andrews said it would not be fair to assume that an NHL team belonging to the NHL might be willing to fund the start of an NHL season without fans in the building. Not all NHL teams are willing to spend resources to keep this operation afloat.
“It is very expensive to operate without fans,” said Andrews.
ECHL, the next rung on the AHL development ladder, could face even greater financial hardship without the direct support of NHL money.
This means that NHL clubs could have a multitude of prospects from both the AHL and ECHL level, potentially with no place to park them at least to start the season, at a time when the NCAA and junior rankings will likely also be in flux.
“There are so many factors to consider,” said Ferguson Jr. “I hope we don’t have to consider them, because something like that could even damage the competitive balance in the NHL when it comes to player development. This is something that all teams take seriously. “
Ferguson Jr. was amazed at how quickly the AHL season collapsed. Providence had won 12 straight games before the March 12 break.
“Then, 48 hours later, we were talking about removing the ice from the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, “he said.
The bet is that Andrews’ tireless effort, even in his final days at the helm, will put the best NHL development league in a strong position to take over – when and how it will happen.
“There will be plans in place, for sure. We want to be far ahead of him, ”said Andrews. “I think we all want the same thing. We all want what is best for development, we all want what is best for the business. We will get there. It’s just going to take time. “
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli