After more than a year of disruptions to its operations, the Western Hockey League is preparing for a relatively normal 2021-22 season, as revealed in a series of announcements during the past week.
The preseason will begin Sept. 10, with the Spokane Chiefs playing six such contests. One will be at home against the Tri-City Americans on Sept. 24.
The regular-season schedule has not been released, but the WHL announced the parameters of it last week. It will begin Oct. 1, and the 22-team league anticipates health authorities in all jurisdictions will lift their restrictions, allowing for a 68-game schedule “with full capacity in a fan-friendly and safe environment throughout all WHL markets,” according to a league statement.
The Chiefs will open their season Oct. 2 at home against Tri-City.
“We have made the decision based on everything we’re hearing with (Gov. Jay Inslee’s office) and local health authorities,” Chiefs president Mark Miles said last week. “We are moving forward as if we’re gonna be back to 100% capacity.”
In some ways, Miles said, it is as if the team has started over as far as budgeting and scheduling for the next season after doing what it could to execute what turned out to be a 21-game season for the Chiefs from March 19 to May 9.
“We are off and running,” Miles said, renewing season tickets and sponsorships, and preparing for a normal season.
Yet the WHL’s framework for a schedule isn’t entirely normal in that the league is not planning any cross-conference matchups.
While the Chiefs will still need to cross the Canadian border to play the Western Conference’s teams in British Columbia, they won’t need to cross into Eastern Conference territory, a journey that is traditionally their longest of the season.
It also means Chiefs fans won’t get the opportunity to see in person some of the league’s best players.
“(The WHL is) just trying to help teams mostly with their costs so they can recoup some and minimize their expenses,” Miles said of the scheduling decision. “It’s only a one-year thing.”
The league also decided to change its playoff seeding format, reverting to the conference playoff ranking it last used in 2015.
Each conference’s two division winners will earn the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, determined by regular-season points.
The remaining six playoff spots will be seeded Nos. 3 through 8 by their point totals, regardless of division. The playoffs will proceed in a Nos. 1 through 8 format, reseeding after each round.
The move away from the division playoff format could increase some travel costs, but the competitive shortcomings of that format were made plain in 2019-2020 when the Western Conference’s top three teams all came from the U.S. Division, including the third-place Chiefs.
The 2020 playoffs were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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