The AHL’s Pacific Division is set to get underway with their postseason tournament on Tuesday, but those most crucial to the playoffs don’t actually want to be there: the participants. Agent Allan Walsh of Octagon Sports revealed that the Pacific Division players were surveyed about their thoughts on playing a postseason this year, as all other AHL divisions opted to end their seasons with a simple regular season champion. The result: 133 of 141 responses (over 94%) stated that they did not want to participate in a playoff.
Given the logistical issues of holding a full league postseason this season, the AHL had opted not to award the Calder Cup this year. Instead, they let each division decide how they would handle crowning a champion. With the AHL broken down into small, regional divisions this season due to the Coronavirus, the Pacific was one of five divisions and one of only three with six or more teams. Yet, the other two – the North and Central Divisions – did not decide to extend their seasons with a playoff tournament. Only the Pacific decided to move forward, despite heavy opposition by the players.
The major issue for the players is that they are not paid for postseason participation. This is true for athletes in all North American pro sports, as contracts only cover regular season performance (aside from postseason bonuses), but usually players have something worth fighting for besides money: a league championship. The Calder Cup is not at stake here and clearly the players do not feel that “2020-21 Pacific Division Champion” on their resume is worth the time and effort. Nor the risk. Health is another major concern, as worker’s compensation will not cover any injuries sustained in the postseason.
The players, with valid reasoning and the backing of their players’ association, did not support the Pacific Division postseason. Yet, the teams proceeded with implementing a playoff structure anyhow and one that includes all seven teams playing at least one game at that. To date, no player has backed out. Why? “That’s career suicide,” one AHL player told InsideAHLHockey.com. With contracts pro-rated for the shortened 2020-21, many AHL contract players are already having a difficult time making ends meet financially and cannot risk blacklisting themselves when they are desperately in need of continued employment next season. As for those on NHL contracts, they are not going to go against the wishes of their organization, either because they are also a veteran who needs another contract or they are a young player trying to stay in their team’s good graces to earn opportunity at the top level. The Pacific Division team had all the leverage in this situation and they used, despite the wishes of the lifeblood of the game. If you’re planning to enjoy the upcoming playoff, just keep in mind – no one wants to be there.