You’ve most likely heard or seen about it by now, but just in case you haven’t, the rumors became truth in regards to the unbalanced schedule in the American Hockey League next season. Yes, I know I’m a week behind, but hey, I just got married. That’s a good excuse, right?
So anyway, we now know that the five California-based teams (Bakersfield, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton, Ontario) will play 68 games next season, while the remaining 25 AHL teams will play 76 games. We already knew that the California-based teams will be in the same division as the Texas-based teams, making it even a little bit more odd in that teams in the same division will be playing a different standard of games.
In order to combat that, the AHL announced that teams will be ranked by points percentage to determine playoff seedings, meaning that a California-based team will percentage points in a win, or lose more in a loss than any of the other teams in the league. The interesting change will be to see how the league determines tie-breakers for next season. In the three other divisions, it won’t matter much as they will have played the same amount of games. But for the Pacific Division, if Stockton were to tie with Texas, a tie-breaker of Regulation+OT Wins would be heavily weighted towards Texas.
The other interesting dynamic will come in the form of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the AHL and the PHPA. Players on AHL contracts will earn more money per game if they play for a California team, but also, they’ll face eight less games to affect their veteran status. Currently, if a player has played 260 or more professional games at the beginning of the season, they are considered a veteran. If they sit at 259 at the start of the season, they do not become one once the season begins.
Now, let’s take a player sitting at 190 games as an example. If he were to play an ironman season for the Chicago Wolves, playing in every single game of the season, he would end the season at 266 games and therefore making him a vet for the 2016-17 season. With the currently six-veteran limit on teams, it makes him a bit harder to place in the AHL. But, if he were to do the same thing for the Ontario Reign, he’d only be at 258 games and wouldn’t have to be constrained by the veteran status in 2016-17. With the CBA negotiations on-going for next season, it’ll be another interesting dynamic to see how or if it’s addressed.
Making a return next season with the now-four division league, is the crossover rule for the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Barons saw the benefits to this rule in the 2010-11 season, using it to make the playoffs in that season. The crossover allows the fifth place team in an eight-team division (the Atlantic and Central divisions this season) has a higher points percentage than the fourth place team in the seven-team division (the North and Pacific, respectively), the fifth place team crosses over and competes in the playoff in that bracket.
To describe that in simpler terms, we’ll use the Barons in 2011 as an example. The Barons finished in fifth place of the West Division with 91 points. The Abbotsford Heat finished in fourth place of the North Division with 86 points. Since the Barons finished higher, they moved over to the North Division bracket and took on the first seed Hamilton Bulldogs in the first round. To make mention of an earlier point, the tie-breaks will be interesting to look at next season.
It certainly looks odd next season, but as AHL President and CEO Dave Andrews told Sean Shapiro, nothing is set in stone beyond this season. More changes may be coming our way in 2016-17.