The Wolves and the American Hockey League won’t be returning this season. When the Wolves do come back, it will be with a new parent club and coach.
The catch is it’s unclear when the league will return.
On Monday, the AHL announced that its board of governors voted to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign. Originally halted on March 12 because of concerns over the coronavirus, the season will end without a Calder Cup champion and its official cancellation terminates the Wolves’ relationship with the Vegas Golden Knights.
“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions,” AHL president and CEO David Andrews said in a news release. “The league’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season. The AHL continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff and fans and all of their families, and we look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21.”
Whether that happens in October, November, December or later is an open question.
The AHL is a gate-driven league and doesn’t derive revenue from media-rights deals, which would allow major leagues to earn money playing in empty buildings. But at the same time, parent clubs will want their prospects to see the ice and continue developing while staying ready in case of a call-up during a potential 2020-21 NHL season.
“We don’t know what’s happening there, either,” Wolves chairman Don Levin told the Sun-Times. “We’re basing it on, are we going to start in October? Are going to start in November? Are we going to start in December? Are we starting in January? We don’t know anything yet.
“Until we know something about what we can and can’t do, we can’t do anything.”
In the meantime, the Wolves have to continue their business operations in an unprecedented environment.
In normal years, minor-league teams get through summers thanks to leftover game revenue and season-ticket sales for the upcoming season. But this summer will bring refunds and likely slower season-ticket sales.
“You just suck it up and you lose money,” Levin said. “There’s nothing else to do.”
Levin did note that most AHL teams are owned by NHL franchises, who can help their affiliates keep going. The Wolves are independently owned but already planning for next season as best as they can.
A part of that is finding a new parent club, which is widely expected to be the Carolina Hurricanes. Levin did not provide a timetable for any announcement, stressing the process is complicated and that NHL teams have their own issues to handle.
Monday also signals the official end of the Wolves-Golden Knights partnership, which concludes with a 27-26-5-3 record, good for fourth place in the Central Division. The change means Golden Knights employee Rocky Thompson, who coached the Wolves for all three seasons of the relationship, is on his way to the desert to lead Vegas’ new Nevada-based AHL affiliate.
Thompson regretted that his team didn’t have a chance to see its season through and continue its development. But he wasn’t surprised by Monday’s announcement.
“We were all prepared for it, considering what’s been happening and everything like that,” Thompson said. “I guess in one breath, just the finality of it so we can move on again is OK. It was the uncertainty that was pretty tough.”
Monday’s news took care of some uncertainty. Unfortunately, the AHL still faces many unanswered questions.