SPRINGFIELD, MA – After four days of Governor’s meetings, the American Hockey League announced some significant changes for the coming season.
The division and conference alignment will look a little different next season. With addition of Tucson to the Pacific division and Springfield in the Atlantic division, this gives the league 16 teams in the Western Conference and 14 in the Eastern Conference.
Here is the conference breakdown (Italics denotes an expansion team for ’16-17):
Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
St. John’s Ice Caps
Grand Rapids Griffins
Lake Erie Monsters
San Antonio Rampage
*San Diego Gulls
*San Jose Barracuda
*=> Denotes teams that play 68 games
The breakdown above gives the AHL two 8-team divisions in the Western conference and two 7-team divisions in the Eastern Conference. It is a bit surprising to see Charlotte stay in the Western Conference, especially since there have been complaints about travel and are clearly a more natural fit in the Eastern Conference.
Playoff wise, the “cross over” spot is gone, which means the top four in each division will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Teams will receive two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The opening two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs will be a divisional playoff format, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup Finals. The division semifinals are best-of-five series; all rounds after are best-of-seven.
The league announced that play will begin on October 12 and end on April 16. In perhaps the greatest farce currently in minor pro hockey, six of the eight Pacific Division teams will play 68 games, leaving the San Antonio Rampage, Texas Stars and the other 22 teams to play 76 games.
Teams will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, then switch to dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.
The fighting rules have changed as well. Combatants who square off prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed. If a player accumulates ten fighting majors, they will be given a one-game suspension. Get 14 fights in a season, the player will get two games off. For every fighting major after the 14th, the player will be given an automatic two-game suspension.
The league’s Governors also made changes to icing and time-outs. An offending team will not be allowed to use a time-out after an icing call to make a player substitution. Also, the dry scrape between the end of regulation and start of overtime will be gone. Instead, teams will use the scraping system they currently have adopted for television time-outs.