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:

Eastern Conference:
North Division: Wheeling, Brampton, Reading, Adirondack, Manchester, and Elmira

South Division: South Carolina, Greenville, Atlanta, Norfolk, Florida, Orlando, and Cincinnati

Western Conference:
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…

2016-2017 ECHL Team Map (Click to enlarge)

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:

Eastern Conference:

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

Western Conference:

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:

2016-17:

ECHL Divisional Mileage Charts – 2016-2017

2017-18:

ECHL Divisional Mileage Charts – 2017-2018

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.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent points – I have always wondered how the ECHL contrived such division alignments after publishing a schedule? Did they not notice the ambiguities??

    • They settled on a divisional alignment at last June’s Board of Governors meetings. Said they needed to do it this season & suffer the consequences in order to cut down on travel burdens.

  2. My only concern is that it makes too much sense! That being said, you still have to expect some geographic rivals outside the divisions to still play more games. You would expect Missouri to have a fair number of games with Tulsa and Wichita, as they would be their nearest geographic rivals, regardless of division.

  3. The ECHL is never going to play a balanced schedule like the NHL. Expect to see teams play the most games against the teams they are physically closest to, regardless of division. For example Wheeling will likely play Toledo and Cincy as much or more than Manchester and Worcester even with this improved alignment, and even a team like Reading that is about 5-6 hours travel to all the other north division teams will probably end up with an unequal number of games vs each team in the division. It probably won’t be as bad as Cincy in the south this season, but there will always be inequalities in the scheduling.

  4. I’ve got it:

    AMERICAN CONFERENCE
    SOUTHERN DIVISION
    Florida Everblades
    Orlando Solar Bears
    Jacksonville IceMen
    South Carolina Stingrays
    Atlanta Gladiators
    Greenville Swamp Rabbits

    WESTERN DIVISION
    Kansas City Mavericks
    DFW Americans
    Tulsa Oilers
    Wichita Thunder
    Idaho Steelheads
    Colorado Eagles
    Rapid City Rush
    Utah Grizzlies

    NATIONAL CONFERENCE
    ATLANTIC DIVISION
    Norfolk Admirals
    Reading Royals
    Adirondack Thunder
    Manchester Monarchs
    Worcester Railers HC
    Brampton Beast

    CENTRAL DIVISION
    Wheeling Nailers
    Cincinnati Cyclones
    Indy Fuel
    Quad City Mallards
    Toledo Walleye
    Fort Wayne Komets
    Kalamazoo Wings

    • Intriguing take. However, for the sake of keeping things equal/balanced, I don’t think the ECHL would be keen on having two six-team divisions, one with eight, and one with seven.

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