In a bold move to eliminate the unevenness in conference members, the AHL realigned its divisions, going from four to six — three divisions per conference, as the NHL is currently structured. Previously, the teams were divided evenly between conferences (15 and 15), but due to the uneven number of teams, each conference had one division with seven teams and another with eight.
This arrangement meant that seeding for the postseason was incredibly awkward: the top four teams from each division would theoretically be the eight seeds, but if the fifth team in the division with eight teams had more regular-season points, then they would kick the other division’s fourth team out of contention.While this theoretically made it fairer to the divisions with more teams and created some more healthy competition, the results were often lopsided, with a weaker team from a weaker division beating out a team we could claim “deserved” a post-season berth. (If I sound a little bitter, that’s because I am — the Wolves’ chances of making the playoffs ended with such a cross-division migration by another team last season.)
The new divisions mean that the seeding will occur just as it does in the NHL: the top seed from each division gets one of the three top spots in the conference, and fourth through eighth are seeded by order of points earned during the regular season.
So, now that we’re excited (relieved?) about the new divisions, let’s meet the contenders after the jump.
(If you are wondering which AHL team is affiliated with which NHL team, my boys the Wolves broke it down in their own realignment announcement.)
For the most part, these new divisions make sense geographically, but you might notice that the Midwest and West divisions each have one thing that is not like the others. My loves the Abbotsford Heat were kind of screwed anyway, as they are the farthest team and no division is actually remotely convenient for them. So I guess they have landed in the lesser of six evils. But the Checkers? In the Midwest? Really?
This could mean good things, however. The Checkers are a young, vibrant team that’s new to the league (it was previously part of the ECHL) and took its fans on one hell of a ride last season. I have kept an eye on them because of my not-so-secret love for Zach Boychuk and my favorite Staal, Jared. The addition of this team to already-established rivalries between Wolves, Hogs, Rivermen, and M.Admirals (yes, there’s two teams named the Admirals, welcome to the AHL) provides a great opportunity for new rivalries to flourish, and it will help keep the other four teams on their toes. It will also give us more chances to see this new team!
Besides, the AHL is already notorious for having a grueling travel schedule, especially on weekends. For example, last February? The Heat played the Wolves on Friday night, the IceHogs on Saturday night, and the M.Admirals on Sunday afternoon. Have I mentioned they’re the farthest team out West? Yeah. This season’s schedule hasn’t been finalized yet since the realignment requires a restructuring of the schedule format, but one can hope that it will take team travel into account. Probably not though.
Speaking of changes in structure… the AHL made one more significant change in its postseason structure, one that we may see mirrored by the NHL in the near future. Instead of all playoff series being best-of-seven, the conference quarterfinals will be moving to a best-of-five model. Conference semis and finals, as well as the Calder Cup Finals, will remain best-of-seven. As per usual, teams will be re-ordered after the first round so that the highest-remaining seed plays the lowest-remaining seed.
This is a change that I remain conflicted about. On the one hand, it would be advantageous to expedite the first round of a long postseason so we can get to the bigger series more quickly. However, as a Blackhawks fan who actually attended game four of the first round in April? I have seen what a difference needing to win five rather than three can make (that we lost in OT is really irrelevant to the point). So while this could lead to a quicker move into round two, it could mean that we’d be robbed of several exciting game sevens at the start — and that teams like the (former) Manitoba Moose might not get a chance to make the second round.
Yet perhaps it is due to this, and not despite it, that this change has been made: who could forget this last postseason? There were so many series going to a game seven, and it was nerve-racking and exciting and also highly time-consuming. What do you guys think of this change? Does your opinion change if you look at it in terms of current application in the AHL versus possibility of application in the NHL?