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2021 AHL season pushed back to February 5

Gulliver, the mascot of the San Diego Gulls hockey team attends 73rd Annual Mother Goose Parade on November 24, 2019 in El Cajon, California. Photo by Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

The American Hockey League’s Board of Governors approved to push back the start of the 2020-21 AHL season to February 5, 2021, due to ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, the National Hockey League’s top affiliate league had been targeting a December 4, 2020 start date.

From the release:

American Hockey League President and CEO Scott Howson has announced that the league’s Board of Governors has approved moving the anticipated start date of the 2020-21 season to February 5, 2021, due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.

The AHL continues to work with its member clubs to monitor developments and local guidelines in all 31 league cities. Further details regarding the 2020-21 American Hockey League season are still to be determined.

The National Hockey League, who have been eyeing a January 1 start date, have most recently said that they are still hoping to return in January, after previously hoping for a December return.

“Quite frankly, we’re not tied directly to what the NHL is doing, but because of the developmental aspect of our league, we can’t be too far out of line,” AHL president Scott Howson told ESPN. “We don’t have to start the same day or weekend or week. But we’ve gotta be somewhat in alignment with them, so that when they get going, they have access to a player pool and their players are playing [in the AHL].”

The ECHL, the third-tier men’s hockey league in North America, has a more complicated return-to-play, with an opening day set for December 11, 2020 for just 13 of the league’s teams who have jurisdictional approval, with plans for a 72-game season. The rest of the teams will begin a 62-game season on January 15, 2021, should they receive jurisdictional approval. The league’s only Canadian team, the Brampton Beast, are not scheduled to return in December.

They have allowed teams to opt out of this season without penalty and two teams — the Atlanta Gladiators, the Boston Bruins’ affiliate and the unaffiliated Norfolk Admirals — have already opted to due so, citing financial concerns. Because the ECHL is much more reliant on revenue from ticket sales and local sponsorships, teams in areas hit hardest by the pandemic and with stricter regulations would be operating at a massive loss.

The Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), a tier below the ECHL, also allowed teams to opt out of the next season when they return on December 26 for a 42-game season. Five of the league’s 10 teams opted out.

All three of these “feeder” leagues were forced to shut down in March 2020 and cancel their 2019-20 postseasons.