The St. Louis Blues and the NHL have enough to worry about with their own operations. However, the disconnect with their minor leagues is disconcerting.
Under normal circumstances, the St. Louis Blues would be about three weeks into their 2020-21 season. Their minor league affiliate would be on a similar timeline, though with perhaps fewer games played due to primarily being a weekend league.
Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, 2020 just won’t let up. Hockey, like most sports, is trying to figure things out when the height and distance of the proverbial hurdle keeps changing.
The Blues should be enjoying their first year of a several-year agreement with the Springfield Thunderbirds. While there is an argument to be made about having your affiliate closer, the Blues did the best they could and coupled with a decent franchise.
Now, with everything being topsy turvy, nobody has a clue what is going on. Not only are teams unaware of what their own situation is, they don’t have a clue what is going on at the other levels.
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ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski put together a good piece on the plans of action from hockey’s minor leagues, or lack thereof. I encourage you to visit the link as it’s a good read on the problems facing these franchises and leagues.
From a Blues perspective, the worrying thing is the disconnect between the AHL and the NHL. Things are definitely up in the air for all sports, but the lack of communication is a bit scary.
AHL president, Scott Howson, pretty much said that his office and the NHL have not been in contact.
"“We haven’t been involved in any of those discussions at the NHL level in terms of what they’re planning to do, whether it’s a modified bubble or whatever. We don’t have to start the same day or weekend or week. But we’ve gotta be somewhat in alignment with them so that when they get going, they have access to a player pool, and their players are playing.” – Scott Howson, via ESPN.com"
I don’t want to overblow anything because Howson’s main comment is more about needing to have some idea of what the NHL’s plan is so the calendar of North America’s two biggest leagues is not completely out of whack. Nevertheless, the idea that the two leagues are basically operating as completely separate entities is not good.
They are separate entities in terms of the NHL not being in direct control of the AHL, other than a few teams owning their minor league affiliate. Yet, when both leagues depend on one another so heavily, you would think there might be a conference call or two.
As of this moment in time, the AHL hopes to start by December 4. Just the same as the NHL, that depends on what teams can put butts in the seats and how to solve the Canadian border issue.
But the AHL and NHL have to be in step to a degree. If the AHL found a way to start by December 4 and the NHL got pushed back into February, or later, then you have minor league players on a different schedule. Call-ups might be more fatigued by the time the NHL playoffs began in that scenario since they’d have played an entire minor league season and then got called up.
Conversely, if the AHL cannot figure out a way to start around the same time as the NHL, or in the worst case not start at all, then the NHL is up the creek without a paddle. They’re not going to have the funds to pay all their players NHL salaries if they’re technically on an expanded roster. They also need those prospects to play games, not just have practices or scrimmages as a B-team against the regulars.
It’s even worse in the ECHL. Their start is not dependent on the NHL, but there are so many different rules for different cities that they have part of the league starting December 11 with a 72-game schedule and the rest of the league starting in January, with a 62-game schedule. Thank heavens that doesn’t really impact the Blues.
It’s a question without an answer right now. There are no solid solutions for the AHL, or the other minor leagues.
The NHL likely won’t have enough money to support “the A” by itself. Not all cities with AHL teams are going to allow fans in the building. There is enough question about teams even starting if they can’t have fans that you have to wonder if some franchises might go dormant for a year or even fold.
The NHL has it’s own problems, but they can potentially survive based on TV money, even if they’re operating at a loss. The AHL has no such deals and has to have fans.
Even if you don’t worry about those franchises, there is a real danger of all Blues prospects at all levels having a lost year. If there is no place to play, they lose a year of development, which could be catastrophic.
Some might argue it’s still early days, but these things have to be coordinated to some degree and cannot be left to the last minute. The fact that the AHL is not on the NHL’s radar at all is concerning.