Montreal Canadiens: Could the AHL meet the same fate as the ECHL?

LAVAL, QC - DECEMBER 28: Josh Brook and Cayden Primeau (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC - DECEMBER 28: Josh Brook and Cayden Primeau (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The ECHL announced that the 2019-20 season was cancelled, and it’s possible the same thing could come for the AHL and the Montreal Canadiens.

The movement to flatten the infection curve has resulted in the suspension of professional sports around the world. The NHL announced last Thursday that it would put a pause on its season until further notice as efforts to contain COVID-19 enhanced. Players are still being paid, and just recently, the Montreal Canadiens ownership made it clear that they would be paying their staff during the freeze.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to keep this up down the pipeline in professional hockey. The East Coast League, the lowest level of professional hockey in North America, announced its cancellation on Friday, which will be made official on Monday.

ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin had this to say in a statement:

"The decision by the ECHL to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 Season does not come lightly, as this is an emotional time for our Players, Coaches, Member Teams, Fans and Staff. At this point in the Season, there has been immense dedication and countless hours committed in moving towards what is traditionally the most exciting part of the hockey year.With that said however, as each passing day raises additional concerns for the safety of those in the ECHL community and as we take precautionary measures in conjunction with our local authorities across the continent to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it has become apparent that this is the prudent decision."

As for the reason behind the cancellation, it’s multi-faceted, and the effects of it are significant. For starters, players weren’t going to be paid past Sunday. The NHL instructed teams to pay their AHL players, but that same extension didn’t stretch down to the ECHL. Players and staff will only get a final paycheck on Tuesday, and that’s all.

It’s a shame for these individuals who have it harder than the players in the higher leagues.

The Montreal Canadiens have been making use of the ECHL despite having their affiliation with the Brampton Beast end. The Maine Mariners and Norfolk Admirals aren’t official affiliates of the Habs, but the team has been sending players to play for them throughout the season. Ryan Culkin, Andrew Sturtz, and Michael McNiven have been on the ends of those transactions.

Now that the ECHL is done, the question is whether the same fate will come to the AHL. It’s a different yet similar scenario. Sure, AHL players are being paid, meaning the Montreal Canadiens are taking care of the Laval Rocket roster. That said, there are far fewer things they can control that will come into play, such as travel and the arena.

AHL contracts expire April 11th, and if the suspension lasts longer than that, it could mean the end of that league as well, including the playoffs.

Some have discussed whether it will happen in the NHL, but there is more money involved in that league, and they can afford to postpone the league and have it restart at a later date. The ECHL didn’t have that ability, and the AHL doesn’t either.

Therefore, the likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, and Cayden Primeau may have played their last game of the season. If the NHL starts up again, the Montreal Canadiens could choose to call them up again, but some transactions would need to occur to work things out. Charles Hudon is still up on emergency recall while the Habs have called up Jake Evans and Lukas Vejdemo (who was sent down again) already.

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Perhaps they find a way there, but the bigger narrative is that another league is in danger of being cancelled.