Morning Free Association, July 8 – The New AHL

The AHL has finished its annual Board of Governors meeting, and the divisional alignments have been updated, as well as a few rule changes for the next season.

The current divisions for the 2016-2017 season will be as follows:

Eastern Conference

  • Atlantic Division

    Bridgeport (CT) Sound Tigers
    (New York Islanders)

    Hartford (CT) Wolf Pack
    (New York Rangers)

    Hershey (PA) Bears
    (Washington Capitals)

    Lehigh Valley (PA) Phantoms
    (Philadelphia Flyers)

    Providence (RI) Bruins
    (Boston Bruins)

    Springfield (MA) Thunderbirds
    (Florida Panthers)

    Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (PA) Penguins
    (Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • North Division

    Albany (NY) Devils
    (New Jersey Devils)

    Bighamton (NY) Senators
    (Ottawa Senators)

    Rochester (NY) Americans
    (Buffalo Sabres)

    St. Johns (NL) Ice Caps
    (Montreal Canadiens)

    Syracuse (NY) Crunch
    (Tampa Bay Lightning)

    Toronto (ON) Marlies
    (Toronto Maple Leafs)

    Utica (NY) Comets
    (Vancouver Canucks)

Western Conference

  • Central Division

    Charlotte (NC) Checkers
    (Carolina Hurricanes)

    Chicago (IL) Wolves
    (St. Louis Blues)

    Grand Rapids (MI) Griffins
    (Detroit Red Wings)

    Iowa (IA) Wild
    (Minnesota Wild)

    Lake Erie (PA) Monsters
    (Columbus Blue Jackets)

    Manitoba (MB) Moose
    (Winnipeg Jets)

    Milwaukee (WI) Admirals
    (Nashville Predators)

    Rockford (IL) Ice Hogs
    (Chicago BlackHwaks)
  • Pacific Division

    Bakersfield (CA) Condors
    (Edmonton Oilers)

    Ontario (CA) Reign
    (Los Angeles Kings)

    San Antonio (TX) Rampage
    (Colorado Avalanche)

    San Diego (CA) Gulls
    (Anaheim Ducks)

    San Jose (CA) Barracuda
    (San Jose Sharks)

    Stockton (CA) Heat
    (Calgary Flames)

    Texas (TX) Stars
    (Dallas Stars)

    Tuscon (AZ) Roadrunners
    (Arizona Coyotes)

As any of you who live in the Portland, Manchester or Worcester areas will know, the AHL has been reorganizing in order to allow the Pacific Division NHL teams to have AHL affiliates located much closer to their parent clubs. This resulted in our formerly AHL-rich eastern New England region losing 3 AHL franchises, back-filling them with only 2 ECHL franchises. All AHL franchises have an NHL and ECHL affiliate.
The AHL has now completed re-alignment to match the vision of the western NHL clubs, who wanted an AHL division centered in California, so their AHL clubs could play each other, minimizing travel time & expense.

Teams will play 76 games each with except for 6 of the 8 Pacific teams (Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton, Tucson), who will only play 68 games each. That makes obvious sense, right? Teams will be ranked by points percentage rather than total points.

Rule Changes:
The league also updated some rules – most interesting were the changes to fighting.

Rule 46 (“Fighting”)/Rule 23 (“Game Misconducts”)
• Players who enter into a fight prior to, at, or immediately following the drop of the puck for a faceoff will be assessed an automatic game misconduct in addition to other penalties assessed.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 10th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for one (1) game. For each subsequent fighting major up to 13, the player shall also be suspended automatically for one (1) game.

• During the regular season, any player who incurs his 14th fighting major shall be suspended automatically for two (2) games. For each subsequent fighting major, the player shall also be suspended automatically for two (2) games.

• In any instance where the opposing player was assessed an instigator penalty, the fighting major shall not count towards the player’s total for this rule.

Rule 82 (“Icing”)
• In addition to not being permitted to make player substitutions, the offending team on an icing violation also may not use its team time-out.

Rule 1.10 (“Ice Cleaning”)
• The ice cleaning procedures used during promotional timeouts will also be used prior to overtime during the regular season, replacing the “dry scrape.”

These new rules seem specifically designed to discourage the “enforcer” role and staged fighting. The AHL is typically used as an incubator for rule changes in the NHL, so these changes may very well be destined for an NHL arena near you…
Over the past two or three seasons, the NHL teams have ‘de-escalated’ in the enforcer arms race, retiring players like Colton Orr, John Scott, Frazer McLaren & Brian McGrattan by burying them in the AHL and not replacing them. The next step on this path appears to be tightening the rules to keep teams from developing more players whose primary skill is pugilism.

As sentiment, particularly among Canadian fans, has changed towards fighting in the NHL, concussion research in the US has also developed, indicating that repetitive blows to the head, particularly those leading to concussions, is probably a precursor to severe cognitive impairment later in life. The potential liability for the NHL is vast, which can be foreshadowed by the financial impact for the NFL, which has been on the order of 1 billion $US. Is this a means of heading off concussion-related lawsuits?

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