The Florida Panthers will not have their own AHL affiliate this season as their new partner, the Charlotte Checkers, announced Monday they would opt out of the 2021 season.
The Panthers and Checkers officially partnered up this past summer after the Springfield Thunderbirds split with Florida and signed with St. Louis.
The Checkers, who play at Bojangles Coliseum outside of downtown Charlotte, N.C., were hoping to start their season on Feb. 5.
Springfield, coincidentally, is also opting out of its season. Three AHL teams (Charlotte, Springfield and Milwaukee) will not play; others are temporarily relocating to be closer to their parent clubs.
“While we are disappointed that we cannot resume playing at this time, both the Panthers and Checkers feel it is in the best interests of all parties to opt out for this season,” Checkers owner Michael Kahn said in a release.
“There are several travel, safety and player supply challenges to consider. Those, coupled with the increasing number of new cases in our area, make it very unlikely that we will be able to host fans at our games in the near future.
“We are appreciative of our partnership with the Florida Panthers regarding the navigation of this very difficult matter and will immediately focus our efforts on beginning the 2021-22 season in the fall.”
The Panthers could find places for their prospects to play — perhaps even with the ECHL team in Greenville, S.C. where goalie Ryan Bednard is — or just keep them in South Florida and work out on their own.
This is obviously not an ideal situation considering the AHL halted its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March and did not resume play.
Without having fans allowed in the buildings, AHL teams just cannot make things work.
“Despite the travel and business challenges involved with this year,” Florida GM Bill Zito said, “we feel that this decision will not impact our player development system as we continue to provide necessary environments for growth.
“We look forward to the continuation of our partnership with the Checkers organization and the puck drop of 2021-22 in Charlotte.”