The Western Hockey League announced it is meeting with the board of Governors this past week and naming key components on the season and livestream events. The WHL press release said the following:
With government and health authorities in each of the six jurisdictions in the WHL territory in the process of releasing further directives on their reopening plans, the WHL has developed a Return to Play protocol to facilitate discussion on a timely start to the 2020-21 season. The WHL has appointed special task forces in each of the six jurisdictions to work directly with government and health authorities to ensure the health and safety of WHL players, staff, officials, and fans are a top priority in the Return to Play protocol. The outcome of these discussions with government authorities will ultimately determine the start date for the 2020-21 WHL regular season.
The WHL has targeted a start date of Friday, October 2 for the 2020-21 WHL segular season, but this date remains contingent on receiving the necessary approvals from government and health authorities in each of the six jurisdictions in WHL territory. The WHL is committed to protecting the integrity of the regular-season schedule, and fully intends to complete a full 68-game schedule for 2020-21, regardless of when the season begins.
The WHL is also working with government and health authorities in each jurisdiction on the level of spectator capacities that will be permitted in each WHL Club arena facility. The WHL is a spectator-driven league and the welcoming back of WHL fans is vital to a successful return to hockey for all 22 WHL member Clubs.
What the protocol means is not specific. With the Canada/US Border closed until mid-July and, at least in Oregon, spectators more than 25 are currently not allowed, there are hurdles to jump before the edict comes down. The scheduled October 2 date is about two weeks later than the original start date. If schedules start then, there may not be the days off like there were before and with the avoidance of midweek games, schedules may run later into March. Possibilities also include a shorter Christmas break, which would affect Euro players for travel, and with some players being used for IIHF and World Junior games, some teams may be without top players for an extended period of time.
The WHL also announced that Neulion is not returning as the platform for streaming services. The WHL Press release stated:
In partnership with the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the WHL is pleased to announce the development of a brand-new streaming service set to launch with the beginning of the 2020-21 regular season.
WHL fans can look forward to all three CHL leagues housed under one streaming service, with a new digital platform developed by an entirely new partner available on new devices. Further details including the new streaming service provider, pricing and packaging, will be announced at a later date.
In the past few years since the streaming of games became available, fans have complained long and hard about freezing of pictures, loss of sound, being unable to hear their home announcer and delays where the radio broadcast was a minute or so ahead of the play. The hope is with all teams on board, with the high-definition broadcasts and all teams working with the same company, prices may be lower and more reflective of current conditions. The AHL dropped a bombshell last year with a price point of all teams that was about $200 cheaper than the WHL platform. That and all the complaints have probably led to this. Neulion was allowed to be the carrier last season, which to most fans was a bit of a surprise considering issues of the past. The issues continued during the season, which led to many complaints again. It will be interesting to see both the platform and pricing that will be unveiled.
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has had three stories on some situations, some of which are beyond horrible. Some have been in the OHL and one in the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, one that seemingly has happened to other teams as well. That is the “reassignment” of players. Players who don’t make the WHL roster are often reassigned to lower teams in hopes of them being able to move up to the bigger club later on. One such incident reported is where a player was told on the bus, in front of everyone, that he was being reassigned. Left with no money or contact with family or agents and so on, the player found his way to said team. Former CHL players Dan Carcillo and Garret Taylor have filed suit in Ontario with the hope it will become a class action. The other incidents have been reported as part of the OHL, with one stemming from the WHL that is far more graphic and will not be repeated here as they are gearing up for yet another class action suit.
The question is whether this is happening in other leagues and the guess iis it is. How deep this goes, not only in hockey, but other sports as well remains to be seen.
Graham Kendrick was with the Portland Winterhawks for several years during the new management of Bill Gallacher. He was a hawk (pun intended) when it came to social media. He would patrol all of them for players and steer them from posting anything that was not family entertainment. Though he probably had a thankless job in this monumental task, he made sure there were never things that could haunt a player down the road. With all that would be going on, it probably tired him considerably and he left the organization a few years back. He was the lifeblood of “sanitizing” for the sake of the fans and players and now with the social media explosion and the people who have been hacked with so much on the line, his loss is pronounced more than ever.