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Morning Flurries: AHL forms Return to Play task force ahead of 2020-21 season

And another hazing story comes from the OHL.

LOVELAND, CO - FEBRUARY 6: Colorado Eagles player Conor Timmins walks off the ice after practice on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.
Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

AHL Return to Play

On Monday, the AHL announced a Return to Play Task Force for “providing expert leadership and strategic direction to the AHL in planning for the league’s return to play in the 2020-21 season.” The group is chaired by CEO David Andrews and has several NHL GMs and other league officials.

“The members of the Return to Play task force have exhibited a strong commitment to the AHL and are experienced and respected NHL general managers, AHL team presidents and ownership representatives. The group will be chaired by outgoing AHL President and Chief Executive Officer David Andrews.”

Naturally, there’s a lot for the AHL to do if they’re going to be ready for hockey in 2020-21. They are largely a gate-driven league, and if ticket sales are affected, it could mean major losses for the league as a whole. Finding creative and safe solutions for earning revenue has been something the NHL has been working on for a while and is now also on the AHL’s plate.

“The Return to Play task force will not have any operational or management responsibility for executing the AHL’s return to play, but rather will provide strategic leadership to the league in developing or identifying opportunities for a return-to-play process that can gain widespread support in both the AHL and the National Hockey League.”

Another important factor for the AHL season is when and how the NHL season ends. As the two leagues are so intertwined, it’s hard for the AHL to just go ahead and create a free agency period and continue with a regularly scheduled training camp and season start. If the NHL is still finishing playoff games in September, the AHL will have to wait for their Draft, free agency, and “summer” before returning in a concurrent schedule.

NHL contracts, waivers, salaries, insurance, and fatigue are all threads that need to be untangled. If the NHL team doesn’t know which goalies are going to be under contract for next season, neither will the AHL or ECHL teams know. Heck, we haven’t heard anything about the ECHL even returning for next season at all. Any financial problems the AHL has, double it for the ECHL.

My friend Katya at Pension Plan Puppets wrote up a great outline of the tasks the NHL has to accomplish before they’re able to shift all their deadlines and dates back. Lots of legal stuff but important factors to keep an eye on so things can move as smoothly as possible in the future.

“The NHL is making up their 2020 schedule as they go along, and the ride isn’t always smooth. The draft was going to be in early June and then it wasn’t. They were going to extend the signing deadline for players on expiring rights to July 1, and then they didn’t. But there are some hard and fast rules about what happens in June that have to be dealt with.” - Pension Plan Puppets

So as this Task Force gets to work, here’s hoping they can find a coherent and safe plan for a return to some version of normal.

(More) OHL Hazing

At the age of 16, Eric Guest and a teammate were forced to take cocaine by an older teammate while a member of the 2016-17 OHL Kitchener Rangers. They were locked into a bathroom with the player and forced to take the drug. As his competitive hockey journey has come to an end, Guest has finally felt comfortable speaking out against the abuse he suffered at the hands of his former teammates.

Rick Westhead has the full story in a thread linked below. I suggest reading the whole thing if you can. There is a lot that Guest explains in an interview with Westhead, including how he still wants to protect the older player’s current career by not naming him. He explains that he never spoke up because doing so would’ve ended his career, through the career of the former teammate that did it to him is still going on.

This whole story made me really mad, and it comes in the wake of the GTHL’s cover-up of penalties for discriminatory slurs. I hear from a lot of people in the business that they believe in their system of accountability and openness. I’m here to tell them it’s bullshit. Because we keep seeing stories like this come out after it’s too late. There’s a culture of keeping quiet, of not being a headache, of not stirring the pot that enables abuse and a level of inhumanity that is simply unacceptable.

I’m not giving the OHL money until this changes.