No more Wolf Pack hockey, the AHL season is cancelled

The American Hockey League announced today that they are cancelling the rest of their season and the playoffs.  That means the end of the most successful season in years for the New York Rangers’ top farm team, the Hartford Wolf Pack.

The Hartford Wolf Pack’s season is over.  It was an excellent season for the New York Rangers’ top farm team and a reflection of the Rangers’commitment to rebuilding the entire organization including their minor league development system.

In a decision that could have ramifications for the NHL, the American Hockey League has cancelled the rest of this regular as well as the Calder Cup Playoffs.   Here is the statement from the AHL President David Andrews.

“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 League’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season.

We are very grateful to the National Hockey League and its teams for their support and leadership in navigating through the challenges faced over the past two months.

The AHL continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff and fans and all of their families, and we all look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21.” – David Andrews, AHL President & CEO

The cancellation by the AHL will undoubtedly increase the calls for the NHL to do the same, an option the league will have to consider as the challenges of restarting the season continue to mount.

Pro sports to monitor

As every major professional sport continues to try to figure out how to resume play, the many issues faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic make it incredibly difficult.  South Korea’s professional baseball league has resumed play.  Meanwhile, everyone is watching the progress of the Bundesliga, the German professional soccer league.  It is scheduled to resume play on May 16.

In Germany, the games will be played before no fans.  The Germans are referring to these games as “ghost games” and there will be a limit of 300 individuals allowed in the stadiums including team personnel, security and officials.  There was an immediate setback when three members of the Cologne team tested positive, but subsequent tests have cleared them to play.

Home team players will drive themselves to games while road teams will travel in small groups in  disinfected vehicles.  They players will use multiple locker rooms with starters separated from subs and each player will be test at least twice before each match.

If the Bundesliga can restart their season successfully, look for the other European soccer league to follow suit and North American pro sports to take their cues from them.  Of course, one of the key questions concerns the fans and if they will attempt to congregate away from the arenas to watch the games.

The Wolf Pack season

Hartford finishes the season in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 31-20-11 for 73 points in 62 games.  They finished with the 13th best record in the AHL.  They were headed for 89 points in the full 76 game season and that would have been their best total since 2014-15.   As it is, this is the first time in five years that they didn’t finish among the bottom three teams in the eight-team Atlantic Division.

While there were no league leaders on the Wolf Pack, Vinni Lettieri paced the team with 25 goals and 47 points. Danny O’Regan led the team with 27 assists.  Though Joey Keane played in only 49 of the teams 62 games before being traded to Carolina, he was still the top offensive blueliner with eight goals and 22 assists for 30 points. Losing Keane definitely had an effect on the team’s success, but there was one thing that really hurt the Wolf Pack.

The Shesterkin effect

The Wolf Pack were in contention for first place for much of the season, but those hopes went south when Igor Shesterkin was promoted to the NHL.  The numbers are dramatic.  With Shesterkin on the roster, the Wolf Pack were 23-8-7.  Without him, Hartford had a record of 8-12-4.

Losing Shesterkin and Keane meant that the Pack went from an elite team to an ordinary team and playoff success was probably going to be a challenge.  Under new coach Kris Knoblauch, the team played well and would have been bolstered by the addition of newly signed college players K’Andre Miller and Patrick Khodorenko just as the season ended on March 11.

With cancellation of the season determined, the AHL can now begin planning on how they will being the 2020-21 season in the fall.  It gives them a head start on planning, while the NHL continues to twist in the wind, subject to the latest COVID-19 news and impact.

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