While the start of the 2020-21 NHL season is certainly going to be delayed as they try to finish their current campaign, other leagues that shut down may have the potential to try to start around the normal timeline. That appears to be the case for the WHL as they announced their Return to Play plan today, targeting a debut date of October 2nd which is close to the QMJHL’s target date of October 1st. (The OHL, the other league that is part of the CHL, has not yet made their plans known publicly other than stating that they plan to begin playing in the fall.)
They will face some jurisdictional challenges as they play across four provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) and two states (Washington and Oregon). Each has their own health policies in place during this pandemic while for the time being, cross-border travel for non-essential workers remains closed down and while professional athletes have been granted some exceptions, that likely won’t apply to amateurs.
As is the case with many of the non-top-tier leagues, the ability to have fans in attendance will also greatly impact whether or not they can proceed with their full 68-game schedule as planned. If they can get going, that will at least provide some prospects and draft-eligible players a chance for some development. Meanwhile, from an NHL perspective, youngsters that have a shot at a roster spot with the team that drafted them will certainly benefit as a couple of months of experience could help give them a leg up when NHL camps eventually get underway, similar to what happened during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. In particular, high 2019 draft picks Bowen Byram (Colorado), Dylan Cozens (Buffalo), and Peyton Krebs (Vegas) could use this as an opportunity to springboard their way into a regular NHL role for next season.