As the final days of the 2016-17 ECHL regular season are winding down, the Kelly Cup Playoffs are right around the corner, and the league is well underway with their plans for the 2017-18 season. The league has realigned divisions every year since the 2014-15 season and most fans are just hoping for stability division wise. With the Alaska Aces and Elmira Jackals closing their doors, while the Jacksonville IceMen and Worcester Railers are coming on board, another divisional realignment is likely once again for next season.
Without a doubt, two of the bigger off-season topics are those of the schedule and divisional/conference alignment. These are two aspects the ECHL didn’t just whiff, they swung and completely missed last summer.
Let’s go back to last year’s playoffs, the 2016-17 schedule was released in late April. There’s plenty of examples to use but the prime example is of the Cincinnati Cyclones. At the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, they were in the Western Conference’s Midwest Division with Quad City, Fort Wayne, Indy, and Evansville. They were scheduled to play a Western Conference schedule based off the divisions at the time.
In August, almost out of the blue, they were moved to the Eastern Conference’s South Division; a division they were only scheduled to play five games against. On top of that, to qualify for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs, you had to finish top four in your division. It’s kind of hard to do that when you only get five games against your division and the teams you’re either chasing on trying to pull away from are constantly gaining points on you when you can’t do anything about it. That’s just scratching the surface of the problems with this current alignment.
The 2016-2017 Divisional/Conference Alignment:
North Division: Wheeling, Brampton, Reading, Adirondack, Manchester, and Elmira
South Division: South Carolina, Greenville, Atlanta, Norfolk, Florida, Orlando, and Cincinnati
Central Division: Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo, Tulsa, Wichita, Toledo, Quad City, and Indy
Mountain Division: Alaska, Colorado, Missouri, Allen, Utah, Idaho, and Rapid City
Now, let’s take a look at our good friend, the map…
Notice anything wrong right off the bat? For starters, the ECHL wants an alignment that makes the most “geographical sense.” Then, explain to me how Missouri is in the Mountain Division while Wichita and Tulsa are both in the Central, when both cities are located further west than Missouri. The Mavericks have to drive through Wichita to get to their divisional games. The Thunder and Oilers have to drive through Missouri to get to their divisional games.
In what world does that make sense?
Again, with the schedule already released before this realignment, the league just shot themselves in the foot. Teams like Kalamazoo and Toledo were scheduled to play a more Eastern Conference based schedule before they were moved out west. Wichita never sees Kalamazoo and only saw Toledo twice this season. Cincinnati only played games against South Carolina, Greenville, and Atlanta while never seeing Florida, Orlando or Norfolk. When you have teams in a division and they don’t play against each other, what’s the point in having them in a division together?
I could go on a lot longer but those are just some of the bigger problems that have plagued the ECHL’s current alignment. Now, to avoid going through this mess again next season, let’s address realignment before releasing the 2017-18 schedule so teams don’t get completely screwed by getting shoehorned into a division they only play five games against.
There will be 27 teams again next season so I’d imagine we’ll see a similar format with three seven-team divisions and one six-team division. As you’ll notice, the only division that didn’t need any fixing is the North Division, but the other three definitely need some tweaking.
So, without further adieu.
My 2017-2018 ECHL Divisional/Conference Alignment Concept:
North Division: Wheeling Nailers, Brampton Beast, Reading Royals, Adirondack Thunder, Manchester Monarchs, Worcester Railers
South Division: South Carolina Stingrays, Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Atlanta Gladiators, Norfolk Admirals, Florida Everblades, Orlando Solar Bears, Jacksonville IceMen
Central Division: Fort Wayne Komets, Kalamazoo Wings, Toledo Walleye, Quad City Mallards, Indy Fuel, Cincinnati Cyclones, Missouri Mavericks
Mountain Division: Colorado Eagles, Allen Americans, Utah Grizzlies, Idaho Steelheads, Rapid City Rush, Wichita Thunder, Tulsa Oilers
This concept was created based on geography and travel. Instead of shoehorning teams into divisions they don’t belong in, they were grouped together with their closest geographical rivals. Obviously, separating Tulsa, Wichita, and Missouri isn’t easy to do but a line has to be drawn to keep divisions balanced.
In terms of travel, here’s two mileage charts comparing miles traveled from arena-to-arena from the current divisional format to this new proposed format:
Just comparing numbers in that chart, you can see a substantial decrease in miles that would be traveling between the divisions with this new proposed format. Of course, the one exception would be the Mountain Division, and that’s just because of the lack of teams in that area of the country so, there’s nothing that can be done about that.
Obviously, this is just a suggestion, and I’m not on the ECHL Board of Governors, whom actually make these decisions. However, geography and travel are the two prime factors in those decisions, and I think these proposed divisions will help solve a lot of the problems plaguing their current alignment.