- For the second straight season the American Hockey League (AHL) will not award a championship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- This year, the big issue was ongoing travel and border restrictions between the US and Canada.
- The AHL is North America’s top minor league hockey circuit and the level of play just below the NHL.
While the National Hockey League (NHL) is still planning to hold their playoffs and award the Stanley Cup this season there are still issues to work out. The most vexing remains the border and travel issues at the Canadian border. The five Canadian teams have played in their own division this season to eliminate the need for cross border travel but at some point during the Stanley Cup playoffs it will become an issue. The NHL regular season is set to end on May 19 but as of yet no official start date for the playoffs has been given.
Further complicating the situation for the NHL are the ongoing negotiations with the Canadian government which as of yet have yielded nothing of any certainty. Sources suggest that these discussions could extend into the first round or two of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Canada has a 14-day quarantine for anyone who enters the country though it did reduce this to seven days for NHL Players that were traded to Canadian teams this season. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says that the league remains flexible and will do what needs to be done:
“If we can’t travel in Canada, either as among the provinces or from the U.S. to Canada and back, we’ll make whatever adjustments we have to do to get the playoffs completed. But obviously, as it has been, it’s wildly unpredictable.”
The American Hockey League (AHL) is the top developmental minor league in North America. They are facing the same situation with travel and border crossing as their NHL counterparts though they’ve come to a dramatically different decision. For the second straight season, COVID-19 will prevent the AHL from holding their playoffs or awarding the Calder Cup championship trophy. The announcement there will be no American Hockey League (AHL) champion this season was made by league President and CEO Scott Howson. Citing the ongoing border travel issues, he indicated that the league had concluded that a playoff would not be possible.
The AHL has been playing a similar schedule format to the NHL with each of the five divisions competing independently. The league is allowing the divisions to decide their own postseason format with four opting to have no playoffs. The Pacific Division, meanwhile, is planning to hold a postseason tournament to determine the divisional championship. Details of the format and schedule for the tournament have yet to be announced.
Howson indicated the league’s disappointment at having to cancel the playoffs though he did try to put a positive spin on the situation:
“While we are disappointed that we will not be able to award the Calder Cup this spring, we are grateful to have been able to provide a safe and competitive environment for more than 1,000 players to play AHL hockey and continue their development. We’re especially thankful for the work done by our athletic trainers, COVID-19 officers and other front-line workers to ensure the health and safety of all of our players and staff throughout the league.”
The announcement of the playoff cancelllation did come with some good news–the 2021-2022 season is scheduled to begin on October 15, 2021 and conclude April 24, 2022. All 31 AHL teams are expected to be active next season.