The American Hockey League Board of Governors has approved a multitude of changes to be implemented in 2015-16. These changes cover scheduling, standings, playoffs, overtime, video review and face-offs. There’s sure to be some head scratching with some of these changes, which will happen when you’re a league attempting to balance appeasing NHL Western Conference owners and AHL independent owners alike.
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) July 10, 2015
Save for the Pacific Division, (Stockton, San Jose, San Diego, Ontario and Bakersfield) which will play 68 games, 25 clubs will again play a slate of 76 contests. Honestly, I don’t understand the purpose of moving your developmental farm club to the West Coast, if they’re going to have fewer games to play and develop. Unless of course, you view your AHL club as a way station to the NHL team. Obviously the league was placed in a tough spot with pressure from the Western clubs but it does make the league look more like “NHL2” than the AHL.
With the league reverting back to two divisions in each conference, crossovers are back and divisional playoffs will virtually mirror the NHL format. The top four teams in each division will qualify for postseason play, unless the fifth place team has more points than the fourth place team in an opposing division. One may recall the Binghamton Senators took the crossover route from the East Division to the Atlantic Division, on the way to becoming Calder Cup champions in 2010-11. The division semi-finals will remain best-of-five, while all consequent rounds will be best-of-seven.
Unlike last season, where teams played a seven-minute, sudden death extra frame, the league will follow suit with the NHL. During the 2014-15 campaign, clubs also went from four-on-four to three-on-three. That’s out the door too. This season, teams will play a five-minute, three-on-three extra session and if the stalemate isn’t settled, they’ll move to a three-player shootout. I thought the league got it right last year but I suppose they’re presuming the number of players on ice will have more of an impact on concluding games before the shootout, rather than time.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, overtime will continue to be preceded by a dry scrape of the entire ice surface. Plus, both teams will switch ends prior to the start of overtime.
Given how teams only get one timeout apiece, this one will play into strategy big time. As the AHL is concerned, it’s also a step in the right direction. Previously, the league only allowed a review in order to decipher whether or not the puck had crossed the red line on a goal. Now each team will get a coach’s challenge, which may only be used if a team hasn’t already used its timeout and must be made before play resumes. If the call on the ice isn’t overturned, the challenging team will lose its timeout.
With the exception of center ice face-offs, where the visiting player must place his stick on the ice first, the defending player will place his stick on the ice first.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.