A difficult season for junior hockey in Canada continues. The Western Hockey League, whose teams did not begin regular season play until late February at the earliest, will play no more than their shortened 24-game season this year. The league has announced that there will be no 2021 WHL Playoffs due to “the ongoing challenges with COVID-19”. The season will conclude when all teams have completed their schedules, which for some is as early as later this month, and no league champion will be named.
On the heels of the announcement last week that that the CHL Memorial Cup would also not be played, the WHL’s decision not to host a postseason further limits their players’ abilities to showcase themselves to NHL teams. With the QMJHL facing a similar decision and the OHL still out of action this season, this is simply yet another blow to NHL front offices and their ability to evaluate top Canadian prospects ahead of July’s 2021 NHL Draft, not to mention the prospects hoping to be selected. While there have been talks of a CHL Top Prospects pre-draft tournament, such an event will not make up for a missed postseason, or in the OHL’s case a missed season.
Alas, the league is trying to put the health and safety of their players and staff first, even if that means impacting their draft chances. They also faced logistical struggles due to teams from multiple provinces and the United States participating, as travel is still restricted at Canadian borders. In the WHL’s release, they summarize the situation with the following:
We remained hopeful that public health conditions would improve, but unfortunately that is not the reality we see in front of us today. The ongoing challenges with non-essential interprovincial and international cross-border travel leave us no alternative but to cancel the 2021 WHL Playoffs.