Montreal Canadiens: The AHL Still Optimistic About 2020-21 Season

LAVAL, QC - DECEMBER 28: Head coach of the Laval Rocket Joel Bouchard. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC - DECEMBER 28: Head coach of the Laval Rocket Joel Bouchard. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens are about to return to action this week. The Laval Rocket could be back in December.

The Montreal Canadiens have not played a meaningful game since March 10. With the global pandemic wreaking havoc on everything in the world, the Habs went 140 days before they next hit the ice. That was an exhibition game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.

Montreal will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in a Best-of-5 play-in series that begins on Saturday. It will be odd watching high intensity hockey in August, but the NHL calendar was drastically changed by the coronavirus.

The American Hockey League was also shifted drastically. While the NHL had to postpone games for months, the AHL simply had to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

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It was unfortunate timing for the Habs affiliate, the Laval Rocket. They were starting to play better late in the season. Cayden Primeau had taken over starting duties on a full-time basis and was playing his best hockey of the season. The 20 year old netminder looks like a really great prospect and he was carrying the Rocket back into the playoff race in the North Division.

The cancellation of the AHL season made sense financially, as the league couldn’t possibly turn a profit without having fans in attendance. With the uncertainty of when fans will be allowed in attendance, it remains to be seen how soon the AHL can return for the 2020-21 season.

But a recent report suggests the league is still optimistic about next season.

Tony Androck of Inside AHL Hockey tweeted earlier today that he heard the AHL is still optimistic and are aiming for camps to begin December 1, with a 68 game schedule starting before the end of the calendar year. Most surprisingly, he mentions that are hoping to have 50% attendance at those games.

Now, a lot can change between not and the middle of December, but if there is no vaccine in place, I don’t know how the league can actually believe they will be able to have any fans in the arena.

The league put out its own statement later in the day, but didn’t mention anything about fans. I’m sure the reason for that is they really have no idea how many fans they can allow in the arena to watch live games just yet.

The league was even more optimistic about the start date. They state their plan is now to start playing regular season games by December 4. The big questions that remain are about fans in attendance and how the league can remain profitable if they can’t sell tickets to their games.

I don’t know why they wouldn’t start earlier if they can’t have fans anyway. If the NHL isn’t going to be playing games until December, couldn’t the AHL sell a lot of online viewing packages if they are playing games in October and November? They would have no other competition in North America.

They must be hopeful that fans will be allowed in attendance in December.

It is good news for Habs prospects that the league is so optimistic about next season. It will be a big year for development for some of the Canadiens best prospects. They signed Jesse Ylonen in March and he will start next season with the Rocket. Ryan Poehling could use a little more time to develop at the minor league level. Alexander Romanov will be playing in North America for the first time and could possibly use a little seasoning in the AHL. Primeau is the unquestioned starter and should really benefit from a heavy workload. Josh Brook will be looking to bounce back from a difficult first season at the pro level that showed some positive signs toward the end.

There are an abundance of young players who are going into key development years with the Canadiens organization. That list of 20-22 year old players could all have big roles on the Canadiens lineup in the future, but none of them (aside from probably Romanov) are likely going to be ready for it right away.

Next. Habs should break up their top line. dark

It sounds like the league is very hopeful they can run a 2020-21 season. But it also sounds like they are waiting until they can allow fans in buildings. That could be very difficult to pull off in 2020. We will have to wait and see what the AHL is able to put together for a 2020-21 schedule, but it is a huge development year for many Canadiens prospects, so hopefully they can play a condensed schedule at the very least.