The start of the Everett Silvertips’ season has been delayed yet again.
The WHL announced Thursday that it has pushed back its target date for the start of the 2020-21 season to Dec. 4 because of the state of the coronavirus pandemic.
The upcoming season was originally scheduled to begin Sept. 25. In June the WHL announced that because of the coronavirus outbreak it was moving its target start date to Oct. 2 as the leagues six jurisdictions — Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — worked to control the outbreak.
However, with the pandemic still not tamed, and with the WHL needing to open arenas to at least 50% spectator capacity to be financially viable, the league decided to delay the season’s start two more months.
“In our discussions with the government and health authorities, it has become apparent that additional time is required to ensure we can return to play in a safe and responsible manner,” WHL commissioner Ron Robison said in a press release. “Our WHL health and safety protocols have been well received by the health authorities, but we have several key issues that we will need to reach a resolution on in the coming months.”
Robison added that the league remains committed to playing a full 68-game regular season and four rounds of playoffs — the 34 guaranteed home dates are another requirement for teams’ financial viability. There were no specific dates for when the season would be completed, but Silvertips governor Zoran Rajcic said the regular season would likely be extended into either late April or early May to accommodate the later start. The regular season typically concludes in mid-March.
“The anticipation was that we would be further ahead with (the pandemic) within not only Washington and Oregon, but the four western provinces,” Rajcic said about moving the season’s start date back a second time. “The more we looked at things and the way (Washington) is in a holding pattern with Phase 2 (of the state’s reopening plan), it was probably the only decision we can look at. They’re talking about us in Washington not looking at hosting events until Phase 4, so this makes the most sense now. It gives us time to work through things.”
While the WHL statement didn’t contain any information about scheduling, Rajcic said that given the complications with the U.S.-Canada border — the border remains closed to non-essential travel through at least Aug. 21 — he expects Everett to be playing games only against U.S. Division opponents at the beginning of the season.
“Yeah, I don’t think there’s any other way right now, barring a miraculous recovery,” Rajcic said. “Right now I think that is the optimistic way to look at it, playing against the U.S. Division in the first part of the season. I don’t know if I can define ‘first part,’ but it’ll be the start of the season for sure until we can potentially cross the border. I think they’ll put together a U.S. Division-only schedule and also a hybrid schedule for if the border opens in the latter part of the season. The priority will be to play within the U.S. Division and contain ourselves within Washington and Oregon.”
Rajcic said he doesn’t expect there to be any issues with players from Canada — 17 of the 25 players on the Silvertips’ roster when play was shut down in March hailed from Canada — being allowed to travel to Everett because they hold P1 visas. Rajcic said the team is still determining the ability for Czech center Michal Gut and Finnish defenseman Kasper Puutio to enter the country.
Everett is in the midst of a run of four consecutive seasons compiling winning percentages of .688 or better — the team’s .716 winning percentage during those four seasons is the best in the WHL — and the Tips won three division championships and a Western Conference title over that span. Everett was 46-13-3-1 and considered one of the title favorites when play was halted in March with Everett having five games remaining.