The Leafs seemed to have a sixth sense about the uncertainty of Canadian junior hockey over the past couple of drafts. And while fans who demand that players be from the same area code as the team they cheer for may be upset, the Leafs have positioned themselves nice to not be carrying a number of OHL or WHL players.
– 1 or 2 exhibition games Jan 29 – 31 then right into the season.
– There was no talk about what happens with U.S teams.
– No details about how how games/schedule will be determined but it is believed teams may only play against 4 or 5 other squads.
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) October 28, 2020
– No discussion about fans during the meeting but that's not a surprise at this point.
– OHL season would conclude May 16th and a reminder the Memorial Cup has already been pushed back and will run June 17-27.
— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) October 28, 2020
So that puts the OHL in a situation to be starting incredibly late, especially compared to the QMJHL. It will be a much shorter season, and an abbreviated playoffs. There’s also the small matter of this still might not be able to happen, and the very difficult to manage situation of the Ontario government prevents contact, and doesn’t allow for US teams to cross the border or vice versa. In short, the OHL seems to be in as difficult a situation as the NHL, but faces the additional challenges of lack of funding, relying on unpaid kids as players, and the lack of sway that the NHL has in getting governments to bend the rules for them. The season still seems like it has the potential to be lost.
But how does this affect the Leafs?
Well, if the intent was/is to send Nick Robertson back to the Peterborough Petes, than it affects them significantly. Robertson is very likely the top prospect in the organization at the moment, and with a stockpile of NHL wingers on the roster at the moment, finding a regular spot for Robertson on the Leafs is an uphill battle.
Much of the Robertson situation was explored earlier this week here:
There is also the added complexity of stashing Robertson in the AHL until the OHL season starts is now off the table given that they too will start in early February.
Hearing AHL is now targeting a Feb 5 start date. Board of Governors approved today
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 28, 2020
Based on what the Leafs see from Robertson in the World Junior Championship, and in their training camp will likely decide his fate, and if the OHL season is lost at any point or shorter than the AHL season, there will be an opportunity to revisit where Nick plays.
Beyond Robertson, the picture for the Leafs clears right up when it comes to the OHL. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev has already found a home in the KHL for the time being, and has graduated beyond the OHL, and with the Leafs not drafting from the OHL this past draft, nor the year before outside of Robertson, the Leafs don’t need to concern themselves with the happenings of the league.
The Leafs do find themselves in a position where they have considerable scouting resources within the province, and if travel is restricted or limited in the 2021 season, the Leafs will be able to have potential OHL draftees viewed more frequently by their front office brass, and not solely rely on scouting reports. Where we’ve seen a decline in the Leafs pursuing OHL players in the past couple of years, they might be in a position to reverse that trend in 2021.
What about the NHL?
Well, if there’s any lesson to learn here is that if the AHL is targeting February, and the OHL is targeting February, we can probably assume that the NHL isn’t going to be back until February either. So there’s that. Maybe there isn’t a need to worry about where players are going to play once they are released from training camp if we don’t even know if there will be a NHL training camp.
There seems to be a lot of optimism that things will be better by February or that’s far enough off but not too ridiculously late that it can be dangled to hockey fans as a reasonable option. We’ve seen the NHL recently pull off a 48 game season starting in February, and they could certainly run that play again and hit their targets for having a regular 2021-22 season.
At the moment any talk of sports returning seems optimistic at best. With bubble options off the table, and increasing COVID case numbers across North America, public safety will be the priority no matter how much we’re all sitting around bored begging to be entertained.