As expected the American Hockey League has announced that they have cancelled the 2019-20 season. The AHL relies upon revenue generated by fans in the building and not a television contract so the prospect of games without fans wasn’t likely very appealing to the league from a financial position. This will be the first time since the 1936–37 season that the Calder Cup will not be awarded.
From the AHL Release:
“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.
The League’s operational focus has turned toward actively preparing for the 2020-21 season.
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.
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.”
Of course locally this means the season for the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, is officially over. The Moose were sitting in 8th spot in the Central Division seven points back of the 4th and final playoff spot with 15 games to go. While it wasn’t looking too good for them to make the playoffs there were still a number of bright spots from the 2019-20 season and other noteworthy occurrences this season.
The brightest by far was the progress of 2015 2nd rounder Jansen Harkins who matched his points total (31 points in 30 games as opposed to 31 points in 70 games) from the previous season in 40 less games. Coach Pascal Vincent said Harkins story was the best one of the season. He was named AHL Player of the Month for November, played in the AHL All-Star game and spent 29 games with the Jets which included two goals and five assists with Winnipeg.
The season began somewhat inauspiciously for Manitoba as fifth-year pro goalie Eric Comrie was claimed off waivers by the Coyotes. The team had expected Comrie and second-year pro Mikhail Berdin to share the goalie responsibilities this season so it certainly changed their plans in a hurry. Comrie would spend time with Arizona before he was dealt to the Red Wings at the end of November. In a bizarre twist he ended up starting his first game of the season in Winnipeg against the Jets on December 10th. Nine days later the Jets claimed him off waivers from Detroit and then ten days after that he cleared waivers and Comrie was assigned to the Moose almost a full three months after the Jets had initially sent him to their affiliate.
With Comrie out of the picture for the first few months of the season it meant Mikhail Berdin would be the top goalie for the Moose. He really showed what he could do, especially in November, where Berdin went 10-4-0-0 with a 2.27 GAA and a .931 SV% as well as having two shutouts. According to the AHL Berdin was the “first AHL goaltender to win 10 games in a calendar month since Ontario’s Jack Campbell went 11-1-1 in December 2016”. Berdin had some serious adventures in goaltending this season (kicking pucks, throwing hits & shooting for empty nets) and while that may have caused some coaches to pull out their hair in frustration, Coach Vincent saw it as an opportunity to harness the skills which make Berdin such a unique goalie.
Veteran forward Logan Shaw who spent 63 games (27 G 19 A) with the Moose last season was limited to just 16 games with Manitoba this season as he ended up playing 35 games for the Jets.
At the end of October the Jets assigned 2019 1st rounder Ville Heinola to Manitoba. He would play in three games for Manitoba picking up an assist but about a week after joining the club it was announced he was returning to Finland to play for Lukko Rauma.
Jets 2015 4th rounder CJ Suess earned his first NHL recall in November which would include a hectic trip to San Jose and ended with him getting into his very first NHL contest later that night against the Sharks.
Winnipegger and Moose captain Peter Stoykewich had a tough season as the fifth-year pro (and last ever draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers) played just 12 games this season with his last game coming towards the end of November against the Marlies.
When veteran centre Bryan Little was hurt at the end of the Jets training camp it presented an opportunity for Winnipeg 2018 2nd rounder David Gustafsson. The talented Swede would play 22 games in his first season as a pro here in North America which included his first goal in November against the Sharks. He was loaned to Team Sweden for the World Junior Tournament and it was generally assumed he would head back home to play for HV71. But because he had played past December 1st with the NHL club he was eligible to be assigned to the AHL and that is just where he went being assigned to Manitoba in January and playing 13 games (two goals and five assists) for the Moose this season. A defensively responsible player who earned a lot of trust from the Moose coaching staff who used him in all areas.
In February the team raised Jimmy Roy’s number to the rafters. Roy is the Director of Player Development for the Jets and has been in that role since the team came back to Winnipeg in 2011-12. Before that the Sioux Lookout, Ontario product spent nine seasons with the Moose here in Winnipeg starting in 1997-98 and holds a number of team records.
First-year pro Leon Gawanke (Jets 2017 5th round) was another player mentioned by Moose coach Pascal Vincent as a player whose development this season impressed him. In 48 games with the Moose, Gawanke had four goals and 22 assists for 26 points which puts him fifth in scoring for Manitoba and the top blueliner on the team in terms of points. He had a very impressive first season.
Another first-year pro in Jets 2017 3rd rounder Jonathan Kovacevic had a solid season as the big defenceman transitioned from college hockey to the pros. He’s got some tools in the toolbox and will be a player worth watching.
Jets 2017 1st rounder Kristian Vesalainen put up 12 goals and 18 assists for 30 points in 60 games in his first full season here in North America. While some question his development he is just 20 years old and really seemed to have found some chemistry with David Gustafsson.
A pair of imports in Andrei Chibisov and Joona Luoto had some impact with the big Russian forward playing 53 games for Manitoba and getting into his first and second NHL games. Meanwhile the Finnish forward and childhood friend of Patrik Laine played 16 games for the Jets and another 18 for the Moose before an injury which required surgery ended his season. Of course he did provide this bit of levity when he began a post-practice interview in Finnish.
One player who certainly earned himself another contract is Kristian Reichel who was a Jets Development Camp invitee in 2018 and has subsequently signed with the Moose twice. This season he scored 12 goals in 39 games (he had two goals in 55 games as a rookie) and really seemed to be clicking in advance of the pause scoring five times in his final six games of the season.
For Moose fans who have tickets left for the six remaining Manitoba home games the team has indicated that they will be reaching out directly regarding the tickets and their options.
Considering the NHL season remains on pause it likely means a number of the Jets prospects will be maintained as a ‘black ace’ squad if it is ever to resume meaning they will have to be ready to go if the season resumes in the top league in the land.
While the 2019-20 campaign for the Manitoba Moose may be over there are plenty of questions remaining for the Jets AHL Affiliate.