1:15 pm: The league has made it official. The six teams from the North Division will suspend play for the 2020-21 season, though the release does confirm that all are expected to return in 2021-22. ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin released a statement explaining the decision:
As we continue to navigate the continually changing regulations across North America, we recognize the difficult nature of this decision. While some of our teams’ host cities have allowed upcoming plans to include fans inside arenas, we unfortunately do not see the same path for these highly-affected areas in the Northeast.
As part of the decision, every player under contract with the affected teams is now a free agent. This does not include those under NHL contracts that had been playing for the affiliate.
11:45 am: The ECHL will not have a North Division this season as all six teams have decided to opt-out of the 2020-21 campaign. Jeff Marek of Sportsnet was the first to report the news, which has since been confirmed by Greg Wyshynski of ESPN and is expected to be officially announced later this afternoon. The six teams that will be ceasing operations for the upcoming season are the Adirondack Thunder, an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, the Brampton Beast (Ottawa Senators), Maine Mariners (New York Rangers), Newfoundland Growlers (Toronto Maple Leafs), Reading Royals (Philadelphia Flyers) and Worcester Railers (New York Islanders). These six teams join the Atlanta Gladiators (Boston Bruins) and Norfolk Admirals (independent) who had already opted out.
This is a tough blow for the ECHL’s desire to hold a 2020-21 season and will send players from each of the affected teams scrambling to find new jobs. It also means that the NHL teams who are partnered with these minor league affiliates will find it much more difficult to find playing time for some of their young players. The ECHL is routinely used as a development league, most notably for an organization’s goaltending prospects that need to get on the ice as much as possible.
The league has 18 teams left to play this year, with 13 of those expected to start next month. The schedule will kick off on December 11 and consist of 72 games for the 13 teams, with the other five set to start in January and play a reduced schedule. Still, even those plans seem temporary following today’s news.