Could the IceRays Suspension Start a Lower Division Trend??

On Monday, the Corpus Christi IceRays suspended operations for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID pandemic and the concern for their team, fans, families, and the like. The positive cases in Nueces County is probably a cause of this, with 18,000 positive cases and 303 deaths; while also having severe outbreaks at living facilities and even the Houston Astros’ alternate site.

While this might usually go to my Clutch And Crab Hockey blog since it’s about the NAHL, this is something that could be the first of several teams making the tough decision to shutter down for the 2020-21 hockey season. Not just because of the ramifications of COVID, but also the uncertainty of the border opening for some leagues and differing regulations from state-to-state in regards to people needing to quarantine before being able to move about the area freely.

For the vast majority of minor league and junior teams, the box office is the biggest contributor for survival. Depending upon the regulations for the area, I would not be shocked to see more of these announcements coming out and leading to a big shuffle for teams and leagues to change schedules and for parent team– finding a spot for their prospective players. You see some NHL teams loaning out prospects to European clubs.

Could there be an off-chance that league make some kind of bubble season?? It’s an outside chance, sure. You have to think that they’d need to find a locale that could handle that sort of thing and then figure out logistics for it. Whether it looks like the NHL bubble or the MLS’ round-robin type tournament, a kind of season or tournament could be had for players and leagues to stay up and running; though it wouldn’t bring in as much money for the team or leagues that they would have hoped…it’d be at least something so they wouldn’t need to shut down for another season and have to deal with being without an end to two seasons of play.

Even with these measures, you never know what teams could still opt out because it’s not in the best interest of the team or community or anyone involved. That’s always a fear for some teams to get into a bubble and then have issues arise that set them back a little more than just opting out. We’re headed for a very odd time for lower division hockey, mostly because they are community based and provide a service to their area and should have a civil duty to help protect their community. Because of that duty, you’d have to think we’ll hear more suspension of operations due to playing not being in the best interest of the team and the area due to this pandemic.

More Timelines Coming Into Focus for Hockey Season 2020-21

As leagues start to set their target dates for their own reboot, John Hoven of SiriusXM dropped a little tidbit about the AHL that kind of caught my eye and it wasn’t until a second reading that it struck me.

An opt-in/out deadline.

It’s not insane to think of this being a thing, especially since we’ve seen that traveling for sports hasn’t paid off the best dividends so far. However, the biggest thing is the chain reaction this could make overall for teams and their affiliates.

As it stands, about one-third of the AHL is independently owned from their NHL affiliate, so those would be the ones that would be hurt the most with no fans in the arena, which could mean they would be more apt to opt-out for the season rather than take a bigger financial loss by operating without any money to counteract it.

For an entire season, a bubble situation doesn’t seem very viable, as the logistics as it is for the playoffs is pushing the capacity of the ice makers– albeit summer is much different than winter for humidity and all of that. Still, the availability of a location and the stir-craziness that could come from that would most likely be detrimental to the players for an entire season.

There’s plenty of iron out in a short time as they have a week before a vote is put forth, if we are to believe this timeline is true. With the SPHL announcing their plans to restart, you have to think that the rest of the minor leagues will start to make moves– especially with the NHL putting their timeline out there and now the AHL kind of lining up with the same; the ECHL will probably be in that same boat. Should be interesting to see in the next coming weeks.

Fair Thee Well, 2019-20 AHL Season

The AHL did what they should have done a while ago with the rest of the minor leagues and closed up shop on the 2019-20 season and playoffs. What along wild ride it was and it’ll be remembered throughout the annals of time. And with it, we’ve got some loose ends to tie up and away we go.

Happy Trails, David Andrews: Since 1994, Andrews has been the face of the AHL. In that times, he’s made the AHL the only AAA-level minor hockey league, he’s seen the absorption of the remaining successful IHL teams, he’s help the league move out west to get a reach into the pacific time zone, on top of getting 31 teams to match the 31 NHL franchises. Attendances has been a big boom under Andrews thanks to more markets, but also the media presence with TV in North America has been a big marker left by Andrews. His successor, Scott Howson, will have big shoes to fill– but he’s left with a great start from Andrews’ legacy.

We Hardly Knew Ye, San Antonio Rampage: The team that was partial owned by the NBA’s Spurs has been sold and will move to Henderson, Nevada to become the Golden Knights affiliate. The Rampage only had four playoff appearances with only one going past the first round, but they were a successful franchise off the ice with over 6,000-people in average attendance; a huge thing to do for a minor league team in a bigger market with plenty to do around it. Especially for not getting to the playoffs frequently, it’s a huge feat. Some notable players came out of the Rampage system like Rocco Grimaldi, Gregory Campbell, David Schlemko, and Keith Yandle.

Maryland’s Scoring Champ: Despite it ending early, Potomac, Maryland’s Sam Anas locked up the scoring title with 70 points (20g, 50a) in 63 games for the Iowa Wild. Having the chance to talk to Anas before the season, he seemed hell-bent on making the most of his off-season and getting more consistent with his play. Being an unrestricted free agent, Anas should have plenty of options come his way. The question is whether or not he wants to keep going with the Wild organization or go to a place that might give him a better chance to play at the NHL level.

Low-Key Solid Keeping: Three goalies in the AHL had sub-2.00 GAAs– Dan Vladar (Providence), Igor Shesterkin (Hartford), and Connor Ingram (Milwaukee)– while Kaapo Kahkonen in Iowa lead the league in wins with 25. The biggest thing is whether these guys will make the jump. We’ve seen Shesterkin move up to the Rangers, but the other three could be a part of the numbers game. Kahkonen is behind Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock; Ingram behind Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros; and Vladar behind Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. While Kahkonen and Vladar are RFAs, odds are their teams will try to keep them for an insurance policy moving forward and place them in their future plans…as they should.

Oh Admiral, My Admiral: It’s a shame the Milwaukee Admirals couldn’t finish out their season. Leading the league with 41 wins and 90 points, the Admirals could have had a record season with 15 games remaining. They have posted 49-win seasons twice in franchise history, but the way they had been paying, 50 wins was well within reach, as was the 108-point plateau they had in 2005-06 and was their AHL franchise best. Of course, the playoffs seemed to be the great equalizer, as the Admirals haven’t made it out of the first round since 2011, but with this determined squad– anything could have happened.

On the Topic Of Leagues Shutting Down

The SPHL is over. The ECHL is over. Given the CDC’s suggestion of two months being the earliest this dystopian, confined atmosphere can maybe move toward living normally again– we could probably see the AHL and possible NHL do the same thing.

For the lower minor leagues, it’s understandable with the uncertainty of the ever-changing guidelines in the face of this whole ordeal. Add that to players visas, travel of teams and players over the border, availability of arenas that they don’t own; it was a perfect storm for these leagues to get shuddered early.

ECHL players get their last paycheck today, which is on average $600 a payday. Players are obviously panicking for money like everyone else who has their places of business shut down or reduced hours. Teams are also going to have plenty of losses with home games being removed, thus lost revenues and all of that. It’s a bad time all around.

And in all honesty, I wouldn’t hate it if the NHL and AHL shut down for the year. Would it suck for no Cup to be awarded?? Absolutely. As a Caps fan, would it suck for Alex Ovechkin not getting 50 goals despite being so close?? Most definitely. But for the greater good and not to rush a season in a half in what amounts to a calendar year– losses should be cut and then move on from there as a people into the next season.

For the players and for the fans, it’s the best to end it now and not give false hope when there’s other things to be concerned with. It would give one less financial burden for fans to worry about, it wouldn’t rush the players back into an important game-state after a long layoff, and it would reset the clock with the Draft and then into free agency.

Like I’ve said prior, shit’s crazy right now. The hope and the hype is all over the place. Common sense fails all of us right now and while sports are a nice distraction from it all– the best way is to throw it all out and start anew in October. It’s not just the staying away from people portion, it’s the matter of money is going to be very tight and the last thing people need to worry about is paying for playoff tickets and the other items that come when you go to a game in an arena.

Step off the ledge, everyone; breathe, and let’s get back at ‘er sooner than later, but not too soon to set people back more.

Everything That’s Awful in Hockey This Week

In what could be a semi-regular gimmick– here’s a bit of a list of things that I feel are awful in hockey this week.

The Stadium Series Uniforms: With the reveal of the Avalanche helmet, the horrific uniform for Colorado is complete. The plot has long gone away from the Stadium Series jerseys when it comes to “Turning Ahead the Clock” gimmick. Any designer claiming it’s their passion and then shows these things off is not a good look on the company whose name is on it. The Stadium Series jerseys were bland at first, but now they’re way too out of left-field. I’d almost rather unoriginal designs than the polar opposite of it– which are these jerseys.

Nick Kypreos Ending People’s Careers: Former Sportsnet insider Nick Kypreos caused a stir on Wednesday, saying the injury that Shea Weber had suffered was not only season-ending, but possibly career-ending from his surgically repaired foot. Then the Canadiens came out saying it’s an ankle injury and it’ll be 3-6 weeks. Kypreos is standing by his story, so we’ll see what happens. But for a former TV guy to still try to run down a story, only for it to really backfire on him is very irresponsible and Kypreos should know better than that.

Losing a Hockey Team: With the Vegas Golden Knights buying the San Antonio Rampage to move them to Henderson, Nevada; it’ll end a long-standing independent team with a fairly consistent following. Sure, hockey is a business, but you have to feel for the supports of San Antonio, the staff there, and everyone else associated with the team. They were a nice change of pace from the Spurs and helped grow more hockey fans in nontraditional markets. We’ll have to see if there will be a new minor league team to go there or if they’ll go the USHL or NAHL route should they want a new team.

The Jay Bouwmeester Incident: This is only horrible because a premier athlete had a cardiac episode and almost had their life cut short. The good news is that the training staff on both sides worked super quickly, as did the medical personnel there, so Bouwmeester is still with the living. Plus, reports that Bouwmeester is in good spirits while recovering is always a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see what the causation was and if it’ll force him to retire.

Too Much Hype for Back-ups: With Jack Campbell winning a game, the Maple Leafs faithful exalted him as their new leader and savior. The say that they did with Curtis McElhinney and Garret Sparks before him. The fact the Toronto fans go this overboard for a back-up goalie is beyond fanatical. Some people might think it’s a great story and something that could be a turning point; but it won’t be. It’ll just be another case of hockey fans looking at Toronto doing this and shaking their heads in disappointment because we all know how this ends– with no Stanley Cup this season.

Minor League Silly Season: Vegas Leaving Chicago, Richmond Back at It, ECHL in Quebec??

Photo via Vegas Golden Knights website

One of the bigger stories that broke for this week in the NHL/AHL landscape was the note that the Vegas Golden Knights are looking to buy an AHL team in order to move them to the Orleans Arena in Vegas to get their prospects close. It would be in line with what other Western Conference teams have been doing. Currently, the Chicago Wolves are the Knights affiliate, which is quite the ways away from each other. And in reality, that’s probably the only reason why the Knights want to leave.

As an independent team, the Wolves are one of the most successful on and off the ice in the AHL. They want the player’s best and want to win at the box office as well, to which they have been successful despite the cluttered market in the Chicagoland area. However, this news of a chance doesn’t come as a shock to Wolves Chairman Don Levin, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “The Chicago Wolves will be here next year, we just don’t know who we’ll be affiliated with. There’s no scenario at all the Wolves will be affiliated with Vegas. We knew that before. Our affiliation would be over at the end of the year.”

The issue that arises is the need to Vegas to get an independent team to sell to them. There are some that have contracts coming up like Hershey, Grand Rapids, and Milwaukee– but all of them are in good spaces right now and won’t sell because their markets are strong. Rockford has been brought up as a selling mate because they have dropped in their attendance over the last five years. We could definitely see the IceHogs move west before the puck drops next season.


Richmond has been endorsed by the ECHL to get a hockey team with a proposed arena popping up in the Navy Hill district. Richmond has Richmond was a long-standing member of the ECHL from 1990 until 2003 as the Renegades, with the UHL having the RiverDogs 2003 until 2006, and then the Renegades name popped up again, this time in the SPHL from 2006 until 2009.

All this, of course, hinges on getting an arena in the $1.5B project which would see many restaurant and shopping areas, akin to what many cities have done with stadiums and arenas in the past. The team also has an owner ready to go and with an understanding of the ECHL structure in Fred Festa– former owner of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.

It would be great to see Richmond back in hockey, though in this landscape, especially in the ECHL with rivals in Norfolk and Wheeling already slotted in. Now, it’s just a matter of getting the project approved and then getting the money to get the team into the new arena.


A few weeks back, the push to bring the ECHL to Trois-Rivieres, Quebec seems to have hit a road block. In an interview with SB Nation’s Montreal Canadiens blog, Dean MacDonald– the lead in bringing an expansion team into Trois-Rivieres– made a point to say that there was a lot of miscommunication between many parties and it seemed that the Mayor of the city was more focused on getting the University team into the fold rather that the ECHL and cohabitation is something they didn’t want to do. Not to mention, they would need the Canadiens to be in the fold in order to make it work.

The last part is pretty easy, as the Habs don’t have an ECHL affiliate right now. That said, the government being very indecisive and kind of throwing the expansion group curveballs doesn’t show a lot of confidence that the city wants a team there. It would be a nice fit and go with the Montreal-Laval connection already, plus adding another Canadian team to the ECHL fold; though you can’t really force yourself into that spot if the city is unwilling to have you.

Not to mention, you have to wonder if the QMJHL will see all this and try to get back into the Trois-Rivieres fold since it seems like a hot ticket to be at. If that Major Junior money gets in there, then the ECHL bid may have a bigger hill to climb.

AHL Lands in Palm Springs

Photo via TheAHL.com

It was shortly rumored, but Palm Springs, California will be the 32nd franchise in the AHL starting in 2021-22. They will be the affiliate of the Seattle Your-Name-Heres and will play in a brand new arena.

The biggest question I have is not if the Palm Springs area can support a team, it’s more a matter of if the AHL will actually make the Pacific Division play a full 76-game schedule rather than the 68-gamer they play now. It makes sense when you have eight teams in your division now, you should be like the rest of the league and not try to hold said league hostage to get what you want like a petulant child. I mean, the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage still have to play a full 76-game slate despite their division counterparts having eight games less.

When they news came out that the AHL was basically bullied by those Western teams to have a 68-game season or they’ll start their own league— the smart play would have been to let them go with their own league and let them flounder a bit before absorbing them. But I guess you gotta play nicey-nice when it comes to those teams because they have some money and some influence. At the same time, you really could’ve been an ass to them and actually forced them to play by your rules and not their own.

Though it’s not all great when it comes to the smaller schedule. Since they’ve come into the league in 2015, none of the Pacific teams playing a smaller schedule have made it to the Calder Cup Final. The rest doesn’t help for the conditioning, I suppose.

We’ll have to see what becomes of the Palm Spring team, it’s a good add to a California market that desperately wants hockey…though Palm Springs isn’t the bustling metropolis I would think for a hockey team. They haven’t had one in the history of hockey that’s been recorded– but I guess it’s a market ripe for the picking.

Better Know An Affiliate: Los Angeles Kings

AHL: Ontario Reign (25-33-6-4, 7th in Pacific, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Reign were born out of the initial western swing, as the Kings moved the Manchester Monarchs to Ontario after 14 years. Prior to that, the Lowell Lock Monsters were at the helm, which came after the Springfield Falcons– the fourth time the Kings had an affiliate in Springfield with the Kings and Indians being the other teams. Two of the Kings longest affiliations intersected with the Phoenix Roadrunners and New Haven Nighthawks for a few seasons in the early ’90s. And I’d be foolish not to mention the Long Beach Ice Dogs for three years in the late ’90s.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: Despite an injury that kept him out all but four games last season, Gabriel Vilardi will be on the trek from Ontario to LA, especially given the depth of the center spot in LA. Also, don’t be surprised if Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen swap spots back and forth backing up Jonathan Quick.

ECHL: Unfortunately, the Kings’ secondary affiliate in Manchester had to close down shop after this past season due to declining attendance after their move from the AHL to the ECHL. Other secondary includes the Ontario Reign, Reading Royals, Trenton Titans, Mississippi SeaWolves, and Richmond Renegades.

Better Known An Affiliate: Florida Panthers

AHL: Springfield Thunderbirds (33-29-9-5, 7th in Atlantic, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunderbirds moved to Springfield from Portland, where the Panthers had a one-year affiliation with the Panthers. Prior to that, the Panthers were matches with the San Antonio Rampage for five years, after a six year stint with the Rochester Americans. The Louisville Panthers, Kentucky Thoroughblades, New Haven Beast, Carolina Monarchs, and the IHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones also served as primary sponsor of the Panthers.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: One possible candidate could be a guy who’s coming over for his first North American pro season and that’s Aleksi Heponiemi. After a stellar WHL career with Swift Current, Heponiemi went to Finland to register almost a point-per-game in 50 games, while leading his team in assists with 30. Also look for Anthony Greco and Dryden Hunt to be on the shuttle up and down the east coast as both looked to build on their time with the Panthers from last season, while trying to fit into a tight roster.

ECHL: The Panthers haven’t had a secondary affiliate since 2015 when they left the Cincinnati Cyclones. They had a closer affiliate in the Florida Everblades for four seasons over five years (one year break in the middle), while the Texas Wildcatters, Augusta Lynx, again with Florida, and the Miami Matadors all had one-year stints as the secondary team for the Panthers. The Port Huron Border Cats of the UHL, the Tallahasse Tiger Sharks of the ECHL, the Detroit Falcons of the UHL, and the Birmingham Bulls of the ECHL were at the start of the Panthers franchise.

Better Know An Affiliate: Edmonton Oilers

AHL: Bakersfield Condors (42-21-3-2, 1st in Pacific, lost in second round)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Condors sprung through the ashes of the Oklahoma City Barons during the AHL exodus to the west coast. Prior to that, it was an odd time for the Oilers prospects, as they hit up stops with the Springfield Falcons, Iowa Stars, Hamilton Bulldogs, Edmonton and Toronto Roadrunners, and then back with Hamilton. Though they had the IHL’s Kansas City Blades for a season, they had a strong hold on the Maritimes in Canada with the Cape Breton Oilers, Nova Scotia Oilers, and Moncton Alpines from 1982 until 1996.
FREQUENT FLYER CANDIDATES: There’s some flux on the wings, which would leave things open of Kailer Yamamoto and Tyler Benson. Yamamoto is a work in progress and his season last year wasn’t the greatest– which gives Benson an edge, as he was just under a point-per-game player last season with 66 points in 68 games. Caleb Jones could be the best shot on the blue line to be a shuttle player, while centerman Cooper Marody put up 64 points in 58 games with the Condors in his rookie season.

ECHL: Wichita Thunder (29-31-9-3, 5th in Mountain, Did Not Qualify for Playoffs)
TEAM LINEAGE: The Thunder got the Oilers affiliation after the Oilers left the Norfolk Admirals, the team that was the former ECHL Condors that the Oilers bought and moved to Virginia to make room for the AHL. The Stockton Thunder was prior to all three of those teams, with the Oilers also making stops with the Greenville Grrrowl, Columbus Cottonmouths, Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, New Orleans Brass, and the Winston-Salem/Wheeling Thunderbirds/Nailers. The IHL was the secondary affiliate for the Oilers from 1979 until 1991 with stops with the Dayton Gems, Milwaukee Admirals, Muskegon Lumberjacks, and Phoenix Roadrunners.
NOTABLE GRADUATES: There hasn’t been many graduates from the Thunder…in fact, none that I can see that spent significant time in Wichita. However, former NHLers like Dana Tyrell and Theo Peckham have played in Wichita looking to get another shot at the big time; which didn’t appear to happen in either case.