Detroit — The AHL is done for this season.
Hockey’s minor-league home to the Red Wings’ affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, announced Monday it is canceling the remainder of its season and playoffs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The AHL held a Board of Governors meeting Friday. According to TSN hockey analyst Pierre LeBrun, the board voted 31-0 to cancel the rest of the season.
“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions,” David Andrews, AHL president and chief executive officer, said Monday in a statement. “The League’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season.
“We are very grateful to the National Hockey League and its teams for their support and leadership in navigating through the challenges faced over the past two months.
“The AHL continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff and fans and all of their families, and we all look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21.”
The AHL was founded in 1936. This will be the first time Calder Cup — which goes to the AHL champion — will be not awarded.
The AHL’s cancellation is bad news for the Griffins, who were playing some of their best hockey of the season, and were in playoff position — third place in the Central Division, with a 29-27-7 record.
The Griffins were led by former Wings first-round draft picks Michael Rasmussen, Mortiz Seider, Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina (who was promoted to Detroit midway through the season).
“If you look at just the playoffs, and a snapshot of what that brings to a player’s development, there’s certainly something lost by not being able to finish the regular season and playoffs at the American League level,” said Ryan Martin, the Red Wings’ assistant general manager and Griffins GM.
Martin praised the job of coach Ben Simon and Simon’s staff with a largely inexperienced roster.
“There were some bumps in the road early on, we had a lot of kids there, and the coaches did a real good job playing them and putting them in positions to be successful, but also having patience with the mistakes they were making,” Martin said.
A key question going forward now is what becomes of the AHL in 2020-21?
The AHL is a gate-driven league — similar to minor-league baseball — and until fans are allowed to gather in arenas, it’s doubtful to imagine the AHL resuming its schedule.
It’s unlikely the AHL would play with no fans in the stands for any length of time.
Any pause to the AHL season stalls the development of every team’s top prospects, an obvious problem for NHL organizations.
“It’s critical,” Martin said of the AHL’s impact. “That’s where your depth is playing. Not just your young prospects, and it gives them a chance to play, but your NHL roster is backed up by some of the non-rookies who are playing in the American League. It serves a couple of very vital purposes, for sure.”
The NHL season is also currently on pause, with speculation of a re-start of some sort some time this summer.
It’s expected the AHL could resume some time around December, around the same time it’s widely considered the NHL will begin the 2020-21 season.
“The league (AHL) has been doing a lot of modeling to figure out in consultation with the NHL what a delayed start might look like, and still trying to play a full season,” Martin said. “It’s the same thing as any business, trying to figure out what the landscape will look like.”
Tim Gortsema, Griffins' president, agreed with the AHL's decision to cancel its season.
"As difficult as this decision was for the AHL and its 31 member teams, the unanimous approval by the league's Board of Governors underscores that it was absolutely the right decision in light of the pandemic still sweeping the globe,” Gortsema said. “While we all miss sports, and hockey in particular, we recognize that the continued health and safety of our players, staff and fans will always take precedence.
“Our front office team is already hard at work contacting impacted ticket buyers and corporate sponsors with solutions and ideas as we eagerly prepare for what we anticipate will be a momentous 25th anniversary season of Griffins hockey."
The Griffins organization said season ticket holder and FLEX ticket buyers will receive an email from the team this week regarding a refund, redemption or credit rollover options for the 2020-21 season. Single-game ticket purchasers for any of the final seven home games of the 2019-20 regular season who have not already received refunds or credits can visit the Griffins’ canceled game FAQ page for information on their options.