As is the case with the rest of the world during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, sports organizations have had to adapt. Unfortunately, the St. Louis Blues are not immune. Just days into the 2021 NHL season the team’s new AHL affiliate—The Springfield Thunderbirds (Mass.)—announced they will not participate in the upcoming AHL season.
On January 4 the Thunderbirds released a statement saying the decision was due to both safety and logistical concerns related to COVID-19. Read the full statement here. The decision to opt out was voluntary.
Thunderbirds President Nate Costa said“As an independently-owned franchise, our foremost obligation is to ensure that our team is financially viable for the long term, something that is not possible without gameday revenue.”
This would have been the first of a five-year of partnership between the Blues and Thunderbirds. The partnership was originally announced on March 6, 2020. Massachusetts has 477,000-plus cases and 13,000+ deaths as of January 20, 2021 according to Google via The New York Times.
“We have always had a long-term vision to bring T-Birds hockey to our entire community and we feel that this decision, although painful right now, puts us in the best position to do so for many years to come,” Costa said
As a result the Utica Comets, the affiliate for the Vancouver Canucks, also announced on January 4 players would be sent to both Vancouver and St. Louis. Utica’s training camp is set to begin January 26 with players arriving the day before for protocol, meetings, and a player skate.
“Due to the unique circumstances, we are pleased to partner with Vancouver and Utica for the upcoming 2020-21 season,” said Blues President of Hockey Operations/General Manager Doug Armstrong. “We trust that our players will be in good hands with the direction and leadership of the Canucks, Comets and especially [Comets President Robert Esche, General Manager Ryan Johnson and head coach Trent Cull.]”
The Comets will be one of 28 teams in five divisions competing this season. The season is set to begin on February 5. However, the AHL said on January 4, “Further details, including schedule formats and playoffs, are still to be determined and teams that have opted out will return to play for the 2021-22 season.
The Comets were third in their division and in tenth place overall before the 2019-20 AHL season was cancelled on May 11, 2020. The Comets played 61 games and amassed 34 wins.
The Kalamazoo Wings, the Canucks’ ECHL affiliate and former Blues’ affiliate (possibly another current resource for the Blues through this arrangement although that is speculation), opted out as well but those players are now free agents