The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) announced their plan to play the 2020-21 season. In consultation with public health officials, the league has announced a realistic way forward. It will profoundly challenge the league.
BREAKING ⚠️ | We will be back in action as of October 1st! #QMJHL
Details 👉 : https://t.co/BN2J9GSeRz
— QMJHL (@QMJHL) August 14, 2020
Major Junior Hockey to Happen in Quebec
The QMJHL plans to drop the puck. Despite the global pandemic, the league today announced a plan to move forward. Public Health Agencies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec worked with the league to come up with protocols in line with public health directives. This will allow the league to play, but it will be a challenge.
October Start for Three Divisions
This will not be business as usual. With an October 1st start date being the target, teams are set to begin training camps on August 30th. Teams will be limited to bringing in 34 invitees, which is down considerably from previous years. The St. John’s Sea Dogs, for example, had nearly 50 people involved in their 2019 camp. This will be a challenge for those hoping to move up depth charts.
The schedule has already been changed. Teams will play within one of three, six-team divisions, and playoffs will be figured out later. The divisions will be regional, with one in the Maritimes, and one each for Eastern and Western Quebec.
No Fans, Lowered Income
Expenses will be coming down. The league has announced no fans will be allowed in Quebec. The Canadian Hockey League is gate-driven, so income will be down drastically.
Regional play will allow for less travel. It is likely that hotel costs will look to be eliminated, and so same-day trips will be essential. This will pose unique challenges depending on geography, for example, for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Their days will be long, but this plan will allow them to play.
The Maritimes may allow fans, but this will be a challenging season regardless. With ticket sales impossible, broadcasting rights will be especially important for teams. The CHL remains in crisis as a whole, but this plan represents a solid first step forward.
Model for Other Leagues
This is the model. The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) will be looking over these ideas closely. Largely, the issues facing the teams in Quebec are the same for their sister leagues: geographic challenges, rising costs due to COVID-19, and a steep decline in income.
Several elements from this plan will no doubt be copied in other provinces. The smaller training camp seems likely to be copied. Efforts to cut down travel will also be taken, and the elimination of overnight trips seems a likely target. The OHL and WHL are not likely to have fans either. They must also consider the unique problem of border closure with the United States.
The Way Is Closed
The QMJHL is based entirely in Canada. The rest of the CHL doesn’t have that luxury. The OHL and WHL each have teams that are based in the United States. Eight teams are spread across four states. Even optimistically, the border will be closed for non-essential travel until February.
American-based teams will have to be considered. In terms of a schedule, it will be a challenge. Worse, players will have to look at local circumstances to determine what is best for them.
Major Hole in the Plan
While the QMJHL has released a feasible plan, it does seem incomplete. A clear COVID-19 response is needed. A successful plan needs to mitigate risk. The biggest risk for this season is not financial, it is keeping everyone healthy.
Players, especially minors, need to be protected. Social distancing protocols, coronavirus testing, isolation, and other such elements need to be considered. If for example a player is exposed to COVID-19 at school, what would this mean for the rest of the team? Leagues must avoid an MLB-style season with players getting sick, and games getting cancelled.
The 2020-2021 QMJHL Season Is Happening
The good news for fans and players is that the season is happening. With college sports being cancelled in the USA, it was possible that no games would be held. Instead, it appears as though Canada’s positive pandemic response is going to allow games to be played.
There are still major hurdles, but there is a reason for optimism. Games are coming.
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