The American Hockey League is making some changes. First came the move to the West Coast with four relocated franchises, and now comes new rules to accommodate this push.
All teams will play 76 games except the Bakersfield Condors, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda and Stockton Heat who will play 68. And because of this, the race to the playoffs will look different.
Via the AHL:
Teams will receive two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The top four teams in each division ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available) will qualify for the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs, with one exception in each conference: if the fifth-place team in the Atlantic or Central Division finishes with a better points percentage than the fourth-place team in the North or Pacific Division, it would cross over and compete in the other division’s bracket.
Also, the Calder Cup Playoffs will have a divisional format rather than a conference format that was used in the past.
The league will go to the NHL’s newly adopted five-minute three-on-three overtime format, followed by a shootout if a winner doesn't emerge in the extra session.
Also, the AHL will take the coach’s challenge as phased in by the NHL for next season.
Lastly there’s this face-off rule:
“For all face-offs (excluding center ice), the defending player shall place his stick on the ice first; for face-offs at center ice, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first.”
The overtime decision is interesting. Last season, the AHL went to a system where teams were at four-on-four until the first whistle after the three-minute mark then switched to three-on-three. This had quite the level of success in limiting shootouts, which was the goal. About 75 percent of games ended in overtime last year, versus 35.3 percent the year before.
But the NHL Players’ Association intimated it didn’t want games to go an extra two minutes because of wear and tear, so now we have this in the top two levels.
The points system to accommodate schedule imbalance is fascinating for a few reasons. Western Conference teams own the top eight spots in miles traveled over an NHL season, according to On the Forecheck. The bottom 10 were all Eastern Conference teams. Shocker that the Philadelphia Flyers travel the fewest miles.
There’s a belief exhaustion in the Western Conference due to travel and timezone shifts plays a role in a team’s ability to make and succeed in the playoffs. It’s also a burden on a player’s health.
The AHL has always been a testing ground for new NHL rules. Could using points percentage for an imbalanced schedule be the next evolution? After all there are currently 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 in the West.
Not so fast said 100 Degree Hockey.
With the number of games being uneven, most have guessed that the league would use points percentage to calculate who makes the postseason. That would be consistent with what the ECHL did when the San Francisco Bulls unexpectedly folded a few years ago and the league couldn't get everyone to play the same number of games. That means that a win for Texas or San Antonio is worth two points out of a possible 152 (1.32%) but a win for a California club is out of a possible 136 (1.47%). This means that every point is not worth the same amount.
Also, from 2010 on the Western Conference has won the Stanley Cup five times, so maybe it doesn't impede on success that much. And there’s that whole thing about stadium attendance for 82 games driving team revenue, and televised games and various other business elements that will prevent it from happening. But it’s a nice thought.
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