Earlier today – in a move that really should not have been very surprising – the American Hockey League announced they are delaying the start of their 2020-21 season until February 5. This move came on the heels of both the OHL and NHL making similar changes recently for those respective leagues.
While exact plans for the number of regular season games, maximum roster sizes, etc. still remain to be finalized, the timeline for the AHL returning makes sense given many of the other moving parts currently involved in the world of hockey.
General expectation is the AHL will play a reduced schedule, most likely in the 40-50 game range, comprised of largely division opponents. If the league is able to get the number closer to the higher end of that range, it wouldn’t be much different than a regular schedule for the Ontario Reign. They normally play 68 games during the regular season, featuring teams from the Pacific Division along with a home-and-home against one or two teams from the Central Division.
Unless things ease up with travel restrictions related to the U.S.-Canada border, the Pacific Division could temporarily lose the Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers affiliate) and Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames) to their locations closer to their parent clubs. That would leave the Reign free to play games against the San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks), San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks), Tucson Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes), and the debuting Henderson Silver Knights (Vegas Golden Knights) – all of which are bus rides away. The only remaining Pacific team, the Colorado Eagles (Colorado Avalanche), would typically require plane travel.
Where these games might be played is where things get interesting.
MayorsManor has learned there is a (strong?) possibility the Reign will not play games at the Toyota Arena in Ontario for the 2020-21 season. It all depends on if fans will be allowed in the building, something that doesn’t seem close to happening at this time. The AHL is a gate-driven league and operating in an arena, where the Reign pay significant rent, without fans simply does not make much business sense. According to our sources, the contract between the Reign and the arena would not prevent such a temporary move.
From what we’ve gathered, among the possible scenarios on the table call for the Reign to potentially play games at an empty Staples Center (meaning no fans in the building) and/or at the team’s training facility in El Segundo.
It’s the former idea that is perhaps the most intriguing.
Fans of the Reign have long hoped to see their games on cable TV and a temporary move to Staples Center could make this viable for a few different reasons. For starters, they could potentially piggyback onto the same production crew used to broadcast Kings games, realizing some potential cost savings if the Reign games were played in the afternoon before the 7:30pm NHL game.
Second, while there would still be some additional costs involved, this would not an insurmountable issue according to team sources. Further, this idea could also provide several additional options for sponsors that both the Kings and Reign will be looking to appease during these unique times. Coming out of the 2012 NHL lockout, the Kings found several unique ways to satisfy sponsor commitments and LA’s business division will certainly be looking to once again rise to the occasion.
From a TV network perspective, also keep in mind that Fox Sports West has already shown an appetite for airing similar support programing. Last season, they picked up Reign-Gulls games being televised by their San Diego affiliate and aired Wisconsin Badgers games, featuring Alex Turcotte – one of the Kings top prospects.
Again, airing those games was much easier, as they were already being broadcast by sister channels in the regional Fox Sports family. Yet, we’ve been lead to believe that putting a deal together to show Reign games beginning in February is not only within the realm of possibility, it’s a “great idea.”
And this year’s Reign team is expected to feature several of the Kings top prospects beyond Turcotte. At forward, the roster will most likely include Akil Thomas, Aidan Dudas, Rasmus Kupari, Tyler Madden, and Sammy Fagemo. On defense, new Ontario Reign coach John Wroblewski will utilize a defensive core that will include Tobias Bjornfot, Kale Clague, Sean Durzi, and Cole Hults.
Meanwhile, if the Reign games are played at Toyota Sports Performance Center, we would assume TV would be less of an option. Streaming games from there, which has been done several times in the past by the Kings, would certainly be a viable option.
Of course, the goal for both the NHL and AHL is to get fans back into the buildings, allowing them to enjoy hockey in person. Until that’s possible, everybody will be working behind the scenes to fully flush out all options.
“Everything is on the table,” is what we’ve been told this week.
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