Peter Quenneville knew it was coming. He’d be lying if he said otherwise. When the ECHL announced it was following the NHL’s lead and pressing pause on its campaign, there was a sliver of hope, but then came the cancellations. Overseas, where Quenneville had played the past three seasons, leagues were dropping like flies. Friends he had met through his travels playing in the WHL, AHL, Denmark, Finland and Norway were seeing their seasons come to an abrupt halt, the 2019-20 campaign end suddenly.
And then Saturday evening came the announcement: the ECHL’s suspension of play had become a cancellation. His season was over as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We kind of figured it was only a matter of time,” said Quenneville. He was travelling in a packed car at the time, heading home to Edmonton, Alta., from Rapid City, S.D., where his time captaining the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush was done for the season.
That the season has ended, of course, is only one concern for Quenneville and his ECHL compatriots. Among the others, and unquestionably the biggest, is that those players now find themselves without the income they would have earned in the ECHL. And this isn't not NHL-caliber money we're talking about. Heck, it’s not even AHL coin. The ECHL has a weekly salary cap of $13,300. Break it down per player and that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $550 or $600 per week. At that amount, it's money many of these players need.
Asked about the financial situation, Quenneville confirmed what others had reported, as well. Payments are to stop Monday, which means that any outstanding income won't be finding its way to their bank accounts. Contrast that with the NHL, which is paying its players the remainder of their 2019-20 salaries. But it’s not just the final three paychecks of the season that Quenneville and Co. will be missing out on. Given the league’s post-season payment structure, those who were on playoff-bound clubs stand to lose more money than one might think. One post-season round likely meant a fourth paycheck. Two rounds meant the possibility of five or more paydays. And so on and so forth. Plus, there were bonuses to be had.
“If you qualify (for the playoffs) and move on, you get so much,” Quenneville said. “If you advance, you get so much. And then on and on until the final. If you make it and win the championship, I think it's a pretty significant amount of money.” Quenneville estimated the additional playoff earnings could be anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000.
What the league shutdown has created is a void for ECHL players. “Instead of having a period of time where you're continuing to make money, all of a sudden now you're probably just spending money to live,” Quenneville said. “Instead of even into May being chewed up while making money and saving for the summer, now all of a sudden you shift that mode to, ‘OK, how do I manage what I have left to get me through until I figure out how to make some income during the summer?’ ”
And that’s a concern for a number of players who don’t have off-ice gigs throughout the summer. That includes Quenneville. While he said he considers himself among the lucky players given that he regularly finds off-season work within hockey academies or putting on training sessions for different groups, any work within the game could be temporarily put on hold. There’s no knowing which rinks will be available, if kids are skating or which parents will even let their children participate in events within a larger group. “Generally, it's always within the game for me, but with all sports being in question right now, it's all up in the air,” Quenneville said.
But beyond the immediate impact, Quenneville acknowledges there’s potential for this cancelled season to have a trickle-down effect on the 2020-21 campaign. While the majority of the 2019-20 season had been played before the cancellation, there was potential for added eyeballs on the product with the ECHL’s Kelly Cup playoffs on the horizon. In certain cases – and possibly in the case of Quenneville, who had 24 goals and 58 points in 54 games before the ECHL closed for the campaign – enough was done throughout the regular season to map out a path for next season. But the same can’t be said for every player.
“The longer you go, the more opportunity for teams who are maybe at a higher level to scout and watch and see what you can do when things really matter,” Quenneville said. “In that sense, that's an opportunity missed.”
Even for those who have seized the opportunity, however, questions remain. With so many unknowns, no one yet understands what the next steps are for Quenneville or any of those who wanted to use their time in the ECHL to springboard to the next step in their respective careers.
“When do those teams start looking to sign players for next year? Is next year also in question? What are the timelines of the virus running its course and getting ahold of things? Whether in North America or Europe, guys in the game are being affected until things get sorted out,” Quenneville said. “A lot to be determined.”
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