The East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) announced this morning that it will kick off a weird mixed season on December 11.
13 teams will begin play on December 11, with those 13 playing 72 games over the course of the season. All but one of the remaining teams will begin play on January 15, and will play a 62-game season.
That one? The Bruins’ ECHL affiliate, the Atlanta Gladiators.
Per the team, the Gladiators have opted out of the 2020-2021 season, an option made available to them by the ECHL’s COVID-19 Voluntary Suspension Policy.
Based on the league’s release, the Gladiators are the only team to opt out.
The team cited a number of factors in making its decision:
In accordance with state and local COVID-19 recommendations, the Infinite Energy Arena has implemented a 25% capacity limit on all events with stringent social distancing. As a business rooted in ticket and sponsorship revenue, such a capacity reduction greatly hinders the team’s ability to conduct regular business. This has forced the suspension.
The decision is in the best interest of all involved in Gladiators hockey: players, coaches, officials, team staff, arena staff, and fans. In addition to safety concerns, the team could not achieve the standard of fan experience that season ticket holders and fans expect and deserve, due to these strenuous guidelines.
The league also stated that all Gladiators players are now free agents for the 2020-2021 season. That phrasing appears to indicate that players with multi-year deals will revert back to Atlanta when the franchise resumes play.
Prospects like Samuel Asselin, Joel Messner, Kyle Keyser, and others who had contracts with the Bruins organization won’t now become true organizational free agents; instead, it appears that they’ll be able to play elsewhere this season but that the Bruins will retain control over their AHL/NHL futures.
Hopefully things are back to normal in time for next season, and the Atlanta Gladiators are back on the ice.