Hours after the NHL announced that its season was being put on hold, the Canadian Hockey League announced that the QMJHL, WHL, and OHL will be doing the same. With leagues just a few weeks away from wrapping up their regular seasons and beginning the playoffs, they will now have to make some difficult decisions when it comes to how they should handle the final few games of the season. For now, it’s all about waiting.
From a local perspective, this obviously affects the Edmonton Oil Kings, who had just four games left in the regular season and had all but wrapped up the Central Division. For them, the final few games of the regular season were largely meaningless. They had all but clinched home-ice advantage through the first three rounds of the playoffs and the final four games were essentially viewed as tune-up games.
For the WHL as a whole, they’re a little bit lucky compared to other leagues. 15 teams have already clinched playoff spots and the final playoff spot, which is a Western Conference wild-card spot, isn’t exactly a very tight race (there are seven points separating Seattle and Prince George). There 16 playoff teams are essentially locked up.
Even if the WHL has to shut down for two or three weeks, they could simply cancel the rest of the regular season and really there wouldn’t be a lot of controversy along with it.
Depending on how long the hiatus is, that could cause problems with their playoff scheduling, especially here in Edmonton where the Oil Kings share an arena with an NHL team, but that could be worked around. If timing is an issue, I don’t believe the WHL would have a problem shortening the first series, or even the first two series, down to a best-of-five. It wouldn’t be ideal but it might be required.
For the teams in the WHL, they’re waiting on the CHL and WHL to let them know just what is allowed. Obviously insurance is an issue and quite frankly it’s one that I don’t know very much about. I could see a scenario where teams could be allowed to skate/workout in small groups in controlled environments.
I think that leagues will allow a practice period where teams can get up to speed before starting the playoffs. I don’t have any inside sources, but for the WHL, I would imagine that the regular season is over and if the league has the ability to start playing games in the next three or four weeks, they will jump right to the playoffs.
The WHL and NHL were not the only leagues with connections to the Edmonton area to cancel games. The AJHL (Junior A hockey for those who don’t know) also put there season on hold despite the fact that they were just a day away from beginning the second round of their playoffs.
Like with most, the AJHL doesn’t know when things will resume but all of the people I’ve spoken with seemed very optimistic that a champion will be crowned this season and the Centennial Cup (for the CJHL’s National Champion) will be handed out.
For the Edmonton area, the Sherwood Park Crusaders, Drayton Valley Thunder, and Spruce Grove Saints were all slated to start playoff series this weekend. Those will not be happening.
I don’t feel bad for NHL owners in this scenario. They’re millionaires and billionaires and who can almost all survive losing out on a little bit of revenue. I do feel bad for a lot of the owners in junior hockey. Some organizations will be fine because they have a wealthy parent company, but some small-market teams will really be hurt by this. For the sake of these organizations, the people working in them, the players, and the fans, I hope we get a best-case scenario out of this and we can get to a point where it is safe to play games.