|(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
Reporting from Inside AHL Hockey's Tony Androckitis and Michael Russo of The Athletic on Monday indicated that the AHL's championship trophy will not be awarded this season. Immediately, counterpoints emerged from the always well-sourced Patrick Williams that this decision was not final and that the league could change their decision during the season.
Flatly, that is a bad idea.
If the league makes the pronouncement now that they will not be awarding the Calder Cup this season, they have to make that decision before February 5th and cannot backtrack on it.
For a prime example of why this decision must be made before the season and locked in for the duration, let's consider a mid-season game. It's not a good start for the Texas Stars and they let up three goals in the first period. What do you do? In a normal season, you pull your starter, throw in the backup and hope you get a point out of the affair. If there's no Cup to be won, no playoffs to qualify for, then does your calculus change? Your starter is a kid who's being groomed for NHL duty. Sometime up there, he's going to be in his head and need to "figure it out" on the fly. Is this a chance to give him practice doing that?
Does it change your lineup decisions? Do you have a power play unit of all young prospects without any veterans because they all need the experience?
I get that players and coaches want to win, but the AHL has always had a split personality. Prospect development is often in direct conflict with winning. However, this is a year unlike any other. Winning is usually a good things because it (1) puts your team in the playoffs and (2) puts more fans in the seats. If those two motivations are gone for the season, then what exactly stops you from leaving your starter in for all three periods even if he's got a GAA that looks like a football score?
Now comes the question of the midseason twist. Let's assume the AHL decides there will be no Calder Cup champion this season but then come April they change their mind. Hockey is a game of inches and some of those somewhat marginal decisions made because the goal of the season was different will come back to bite those teams that made them.
If the AHL thinks there is any chance they might play for a Calder Cup this year, they have to call that play before the season begins. As we saw last year across many sports, the decision can be made to remove a playoff midseason. However, the decision to add one is not tenable.
In my opinion, I think the AHL has already considered all of this and reached the same conclusion, which gives credence to the reports across the league yesterday. I don't think we'll see the Calder Cup awarded again until 2022.