There are new details emerging regarding the start of the 2020-21 WHL Regular season following a conference call with the WHL Commissioner, Ron Robison.
The WHL and it’s member clubs are targeting a 50-game season with a firm starting date of January 8th, 2021. It was also announced today the season is expected to end on May 2, 2021.
This means the teams are expected to play 50 games over 114 days. The schedule details are likely to come in Mid-November.
“We are making very good progress and our health and safety protocols have been well received. As everyone is well aware, we’re at different stages in different provinces and states within our region. We’re going to need some additional time to work out those details before we can release information on our actual schedule for the season,” Robison explained.
A playoff format has not been decided on as of this time, but the format depends on how the regular season plays out and what kind of regulations are required to be followed at that time. The league would like to have a full playoff but admitted they may need to crown four division winners.
Also discussed were dates such as the Overage Deadline, typically about three weeks into the season, and the Trade Deadline, usually scheduled for January 10th. Robison stated that those dates will need to be changed but they will not be announced until a later date; following a discussion among the WHL General Managers and the league.
Fans around the WHL are clamoring to know about being able to be in attendance this season. Robison went into some detail regarding what the WHL hopes to have happen before the January 8th date.
“(50 percent capacity) is our objective but we recognize that will be determined by the health authorities and through our discussions with them,” he said.
“Those discussions are ongoing and we’re looking forward to getting some clarification on that soon. But the number may be significantly lower than 50 percent, given the health restrictions that apply in various provinces and states.”
What that means for WHL clubs remains to be seen. Robison did go on to discuss the financial implications on the WHL clubs of a January start.
“There are going to be significant financial losses by all our clubs. We know we’re going to be dealing with limited capacity– far lower than we are accustomed to and that will cause some challenges. I don’t believe we are at risk of losing any franchises,” he said.
“It’s a very difficult circumstance that we find ourselves in from an ownership perspective, I admire their commitment to the players to get the season started and to work our way through this.”
For now, it appears that even the community-owned teams like Lethbridge and Moose Jaw are in it for the long haul, which is good for the WHL overall.
On Wednesday, the WHL released a statement regarding the play of the teams for the upcoming season. It was stated that teams in Alberta and B.C. will be playing within their province and the five U.S. Division teams also forming their own cohorts. With seven teams in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the league is hoping to form a cohort with that group but still needs approval from the two governments.
“We still need to obtain approval for the inter-provincial travel between Manitoba and Saskatchewan. We’re at different stages with each of the health authorities in those provinces, but expect a decision on that soon, so that we can move forward with scheduling games,” Robison said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic eases and “normal” life resumes, the WHL wants to get back to playing inter-divisionally, as well as continuing their inter-conference play.
“We would like to revert back as quick as we can to a normal schedule if you will,” said Robison
“Our teams are really comfortable with that format and that would be our desire but that will be dictated by where we land next season.”
The WHL will not be heading to a pay-to-play model as seen in other Junior hockey leagues throughout Canada. WHL teams and ownership have resolved to play on without charging fees to their players.
“They’ve made it very clear that their committed to the players and their development and despite the fact that attendance will be minimalized and revenues will be limited, they are prepared to meet that commitment and move forward. It’s a strong statement to be made under these circumstances,” said Robison.