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AHL cancels rest of season and playoffs due to coronavirus pandemic

Hartford Wolf Pack goaltender Igor Shesterkin during practice

Hartford Wolf Pack goaltender Igor Shesterkin during practice at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, on Nov. 14, 2019. Credit: Bill Mercey

While the NHL continues to strategize on how to resume games, its top minor-league affiliate has canceled the rest of its season and playoffs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outgoing AHL president and CEO David Andrews announced on Monday that the league’s board of governors voted to cancel the remainder of its regular season and the 2020 Calder Cup playoffs.

“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,” the 31-team league said in a statement. “The league’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season.”

But Andrews added in an interview later in the day that the next AHL season might take a different format.

“There’s a ton of uncertainty here,” he said on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon. “We need to prepare for all of those scenarios and whether it’s a full league operating for a full season, or whether it’s some critical mass of teams operating for less than a full season or whether it’s regional competitions — a completely different look than what we’ve done in the past to get through 2020-21 — we’re going to have to find that solution as we go along.”

It’s not clear if the AHL will be able to resume next season if fans are not allowed into the arenas, given the league’s reliance on ticket and facility-related revenue.

This will mark the first time since the AHL’s formation in 1936 that the Calder Cup will not be awarded.

The AHL announced that its standings and statistics as of March 12, when play was halted, will be considered final and official and serve as the basis for the league’s awards.

The ECHL, the NHL’s second-tier minor-league affiliate, canceled the remainder of its season on March 15.

The NHL also halted play on March 12 but has remained hopeful that it will be able to resume if health and government officials give it the green light. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league could wait until deep into the summer to restart and that the start of the 2020-21 season could be pushed back to December.

The NHL hopes to reopen its practice facilities to small-group workouts by the end of this month.

The AHL’s decision may give the NHL teams more facility options. Both the Islanders (Bridgeport) and Rangers (Hartford) have AHL affiliates in Connecticut, where the first phase of reopening businesses is scheduled for May 20.

The Islanders did not rule out practicing or playing in that state.

“As of now, all options are on the table,” an Islanders spokesman said. “There have been no specific decisions as of yet.”

The Hartford Courant reported Friday that the Rangers were considering those options.

It’s very likely that any games the NHL might be able to play this season would be held without fans in the building. The NHL would be able to salvage some television revenue.

A source told Newsday on Saturday that the NHL’s return-to-play scenarios have been narrowed to two and that the timing of when games can resume — if they do — will determine which format is used.

The first includes 24 teams. Under this plan, the top four would play for playoff seeding and the bottom teams would have play-in games.

The second plan would include only 16 teams heading straight into the playoffs with no regular-season games.

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