Kudos To The OHL For Carrying On

Ty Nelson. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Give credit where credit is due: The owners of the Ontario Hockey League have strengthened themselves this week. The Major Junior Circuit Board of Governors held a meeting Wednesday morning that resulted in the league reaffirming its commitment to the season in the face of new pandemic orders from the province that will severely limit a team’s ability to make money currently.

This, of course, comes after the washout last year, when the season was ultimately canceled when the OHL couldn’t get a green light from the provincial government, making it the only league in the CHL that doesn’t have the appearance of a schedule: the WHL has set up 24 games for their teams, while the QMJHL even crowned a playoff champion in Victoriaville. The only provincial government that could not get through was Ontario.

It goes without saying that the OHL teams, like many companies these days, suffered a blow last year and the first half of the season served as a much-needed oasis with fans back in the stands – albeit with reduced capacity (so it was something but certainly not the past normal).

From now on, fans are not allowed in Ontario arenas until January 26th at the earliest and since the Omicron variant is running wild in the province, we cannot assume that everything will be okay by then. For the foreseeable future, the only teams that will be able to generate gate revenue will be the league’s three American franchises: The Flint Firebirds, Saginaw Spirit, and Erie Otters. Neither Michigan nor Pennsylvania currently have capacity limits for the arena.

Yesterday I happened to be on the phone with an NHL scout who pointed out how impressed he was with the owners’ decision: they wanted the kids to have a season, and they put their players before the money.

Now, it’s fair to point out that the CHL has been controversial over money and players in the past: in 2020, the three leagues under the CHL umbrella settled class actions in this area for $ 30 million. But it’s also fair to praise the owners if they get it right.

The lack of a season last year had a huge impact on both development and scouting for OHLers, and there’s a trickle-down effect this year: Scouts always keep an eye on underage players for a first book on them get, but that season’s NHL Draft Class was deprived of that opportunity. So now the scouts are playing catch-up.

“The way things are now, each of the books we’ve used for this job before has fallen out of the window,” said an NHL scout. “Now when you go to a game you see almost a double cohort of players. And a group that you have a really important decision to make.”

And with games postponed this year due to team breakouts, Scouts have been forced to change their travel plans on the fly and catch all the games they can. So, in addition to playing last year’s catch-up, you have to make sure you get all of your views this season amid an unpredictable schedule.

Everyone knows the OHL’s top contender, Kingston’s Shane Wright, as he is expected to finish first in the 2022 NHL draft. Wright joined the OHL a year early thanks to his exceptional status. But for other potential NHL first-rounders like Ty Nelson of North Bay, Matthew Poitras of Guelph, and Pavel Mintyukov of Saginaw, this is technically their rookie OHL campaign and it would have been even more stressful if the OHL and its owners had decided that Cut season. Hell, it would also have been a lot more stressful for any player trying to prove their development worth to an NHL team, whether they’re drafted or trying to get their way as a free agent.

If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that predicting the future is a game of fools. But in the short term, the owners of the OHL really went out of their way to reaffirm their commitment to pushing the season forward.

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