The COVID-19 pandemic forced the National Hockey League to pause the 2019-20 season for five months and is delaying the start of next season until January, but it is having more of a disastrous impact on their affiliates in the AHL and ECHL.
The American Hockey League announced that they hope to start in early February and the ECHL indicated last month that they intend to start their season in mid-January, but on Wednesday the league announced that they will be playing without six clubs, including the Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate, the Newfoundland Growlers.
The rest of the league’s North Division (Adirondack (New Jersey), Brampton (Ottawa), Maine (NY Rangers), Reading (Philadelphia) and Worcester (NY Islanders) have also elected to avail themselves of the ECHL's COVID-19 Voluntary Suspension Policy for the 2020-21 season.
"The Growlers and the ECHL along with the PHPA have been working diligently to a safe return to hockey but unfortunately we have reached a point where it just makes sense to shift our focus to the 2021-22 season and the potential rejuvenation of Mile One Centre." Dean MacDonald, Chair of Deacon Sports and Entertainment, said in a press release.
With the Growlers shutting down for the season, this will mean that the Leafs will have no place for players on AHL contracts to play regularly. For example, defensemen Kristians Rubins, Mac Hollowell and Joseph Duszak played significant time in the ECHL before getting their chance with the Toronto Marlies.
Toronto has four goaltenders under contract next season in Aaron Dell, Michael Hutchinson, Joseph Woll and Ian Scott, and it was expected that one of the young netminders would get the majority of the playing time in Newfoundland.
Another potential ramification of this shutdown is the Growlers future in St. John’s. The Leafs affiliation agreement expires next May of 2021 and the franchise’s future is tied to the sale of the Mile One Centre, where Toronto held their training camp last September.
“It is important to the Maple Leafs that our local partners are successful, as their success ensures the viability of our development program,” Leafs Assistant GM Laurence Gilman said, “We support Dean and Glenn’s aspiration to own and manage Mile One Centre as it will safeguard our commitment and long-term relationship with St. John’s.”
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