The American Hockey League’s 2020-21 season will certainly go down as one of the most memorable campaigns in the league’s 85-year history. Although mainly remembered for its odd season length, disparity in schedule releases, and its number of home vs. away games for each of its member clubs, the current season will also be one for the ages for its four-turned-five Canadian clubs.
With no set plan for the Calder Cup or the playoffs yet to that matter, postseason hockey may not even occur this year. With three clubs (Charlotte Checkers, Milwaukee Admirals, and Springfield Thunderbirds) opting not to play in 2020-21 due to great financial losses, the league has had to made fit with its other participating teams. As finances continue to be an issue, players have agreed to let salaries drop for this season as well.
The league released the schedules for all 24 United States-based teams on January 22, including that of the California-based Stockton Heat. However, just six days later, the Calgary Flames and their AHL affiliate made it known that the team would relocate to Alberta and play its 2020-21 season out of Calgary, in order to help eliminate the need of COVID-19 quarantine protocol in relation to recalls and assignments. That decision was made in line with first-year AHL President Scott Howson’s decree of maintaining high standards in terms of overall safety.
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“Our priorities are first and foremost health and safety,” Howson said upon the initial season schedule release. “Our main objective is to provide a safe environment for our players to continue their development towards a career in the National Hockey League.”
He said it would be safe, not fair… right?
As it currently stands, AHL teams based in the United States will play anywhere from 24 to 44 games spread out from February 5 to May 16 – a span of 100 total days. Teams playing 44 games will see game action every 2.72 days, while teams playing 24 games are only playing every 4.17 days. American teams will play any number of inter-division games from a list spanning 24, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40 or 44.
Interestingly, despite the discrepancy in total games played between teams, the splits between home and away contests are rather even in all markets.
The same cannot be said of what is happening north of the 49th parallel.
In Canada, the league went from three teams in eastern Canada and one outlier in central Canada to expanding to five teams with the relocation of Stockton to Calgary.
Solely on the front of dollars spent on air travel, the inclusion of the Heat to the Canadian Division has helped balance out the expected 2020-21 season costs for many teams and helped justify the great spending that the Manitoba Moose, in particular, would have had to cough up in comparison to that of the Belleville Senators, Toronto Marlies and Laval Rocket – which are all within a 550 kilometre radius.
What it hasn’t done, however, is balance out the schedule. With the AHL announcing its full 2020-21 regular season schedule for the Canadian Division on Tuesday, heavy scrutiny has been made of the distribution of home vs. away contests for the five teams battling one another in Canada.
Four of the five clubs will play an even 36 games between February 12 and May 16, while Stockton will dress in 30 games. How the host locations of the games was determined is really anyone’s call. Toronto and Laval will have an even 18/18 split, while Belleville will host a minimal 19/17 advantage in terms of home/away games. Stockton – the only team not to play 36 games – will play just 11 home contests, while starting 19 games on the road. Manitoba will see 21 home games compared to 15 road matchups.
Whether home-ice advantage will play any sort of role in the season’s results will come into the picture in the coming months. Through 80 games, the league’s cumulative record currently sits at 41-30-9 at home. But having played less than three weeks of the 2020-21 season schedule, there will be much more fun – and many wrinkles – left ahead.