The Komets played their last game of the season March 11, but there were some Fort Wayne players who had an outside chance of skating again in the higher-level American Hockey League.
That will not happen this season.
The AHL, which is one step below the NHL, announced Monday it was canceling the remainder of its season because of COVID-19. The move came after the ECHL's decision to cancel March 14 and while the NHL is still hoping to complete its season.
“After a lengthy review process, the American Hockey League has determined that the resumption and completion of the 2019-20 season is not feasible in light of current conditions,” David Andrews, the AHL's president and chief executive officer, said in a press release. “The league's operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season.”
The Komets had an affiliation with the Vegas Golden Knights and a less-formal working agreement with the Los Angeles Kings this season. Players who were in Fort Wayne through NHL or AHL contracts – such a Mason Bergh and Drake Rymsha – might have been called upon if the AHL got back on the ice.
The Kings' prospects, including Max Gottlieb and Cole Kehler, could have gone to the Ontario Reign, and the Golden Knights', such as Dylan Ferguson, might have rejoined the Chicago Wolves.
The NHL, AHL and ECHL suspended play March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
If the NHL resumes play, it could do so with expanded rosters that include AHL players. It's unlikely any players who had been with Fort Wayne this season would be called on, though former Fort Wayne players such as Pat Nagle, who is in the Detroit Red Wings' system, might be needed.
“We are very grateful to the National Hockey League and its teams for their support and leadership in navigating through the challenges faced over the past two months,” Andrews said. “The AHL continues to place paramount importance on the health and safety of our players, officials, staff and fans and all of their families, and we all look forward to returning to our arenas in 2020-21.”
The 31-team AHL, founded in 1936, had 209 games remaining this season. The Charlotte Checkers won the Calder Cup in 2019, defeating the Wolves 4-1 in a best-of-7 series.
The Komets' agreements with the Golden Knights and Kings end this summer, and Fort Wayne has already said it wants to work with only one NHL team next season.
If the Komets re-sign with the Golden Knights, the AHL intermediary would no longer be the Wolves because the Golden Knights have bought the San Antonio franchise and are moving it to Henderson, Nevada.
Lost revenue from the coronavirus pandemic could lead to contraction in the AHL and ECHL. The ECHL has already released its 2020-21 schedule – the Komets' first game at Memorial Coliseum is slated for Oct. 17 – but if fans aren't allowed into buildings it's unlikely that minor leagues will be able to skate because they need the revenue from ticket sales.
According to the Associated Press, the AHL's decision to cancel this season was made Friday during a Board of Governors meeting.
“It's something that was essentially inevitable,” Syracuse defenseman Cameron Gaunce, an AHL executive committee member for the Professional Hockey Players Association, told the AP. “I think they had been waiting for this point because they wanted to see if there had been any changes, and I think that was the responsible way to go about it. They didn't want to make any knee-jerk reactions either way.”