Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 06/16/10 at 08:21 PM ET
With the folding of one team, a couple of affiliation changes and a couple of new teams, the American Hockey League today announced the new divisional alignment for the 2010-11 season. The Charlotte Checkers will be playing in the East Division of the Eastern Conference. This is the same division that the Albany River Rats played in, and the changes appear to be minor at first, but there are actually quite a few.
Unfortunately, the league didn’t make the change that it really should have. There are two conferences of 15 teams with two divisions each. I really wish they would have burned that system down and made two conferences of three five-team divisions. Instead, there’s the imbalance of one division with seven teams and one with eight. It complicates playoff qualification and it makes for a schedule with no hope of balance.
First, the brass tacks. Here’s the alignment:
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Manchester Monarchs (LAK)
Portland Pirates (BUF)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
Springfield Falcons (CBJ)
Worcester Sharks (SJS)
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)
Albany Devils (NJD)
Birmingham Senators (OTT)
Charlotte Checkers (CAR)
Hershey Bears (WAS)
Norfolk Admirals (TBL)
Syracuse Crunch (ANA)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)
Abbotsford Heat (CGY)
Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Manitoba Moose (VAN)
Rochester Americans (FLA)
Toronto Marlies (TML)
Chicago Wolves (ATL)
Houston Aeros (MIN)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Oklahoma City Barons (EDM)
Peoria Rivermen (STL)
Rockford Ice Hogs (CHI)
San Antonio Rampage (PHO)
Texas Stars (DAL)
So what’s new this season, anyway?
- With 30 teams, each NHL team has its own affiliate. No more sharing.
- Lowell no longer has a team. They were the affiliate of the New Jersey Devils since 2006, the Hurricanes affiliate (as the Monsters) between 2001 and 2006. The Avalanche (2005-06), Flames (2003-05), Kings (2000-01) and Islanders (1998-01) all had their affiliate there. Many of those years, two NHL teams were splitting the affiliate.
- The Devils moved back to Albany when the River Rats moved to Charlotte to play as the Checkers.
- The Atlantic Division, by losing Lowell, now has seven teams instead of eight. The East Division, by gaining Charlotte, now has eight teams instead of seven.
- The Springfield Falcons switched their affiliation. Last season, they were the affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. More on this later. They have signed a one year deal this year to be the top farm team for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets’ affiliate had been the Syracuse Crunch.
- The Syracuse Crunch became the affiliate for the Anaheim Ducks. They had housed their players with the now defunct Iowa Chops, who were shut down by the AHL. Last season, the Ducks had their AHL players spread out between the San Antonio Rampage, the Manitoba Moose and the Toronto Marlies. They’ll be happy to again have an AHL franchise all to themselves.
All of these changes affect the Eastern Conference only. Out West, it’s a little simpler:
- The Oklahoma City Barons is a new team. They will house the top prospects for the Edmonton Oilers. They will be added to the West Division, giving it eight teams instead of seven.
I really hate that the divisions are so large and also that they’re unbalanced. With this imbalance, who does the AHL think it is? MLB? I haven’t really monkeyed around with it, but I really wish they would align it differently with the same format the NHL uses. The NHL alignment isn’t perfect, but at least it makes a balanced schedule easier to achieve and it’s a little easier to understand the playoff qualification scenarios. At least if they don’t do that, the AHL should change the qualification criteria. As is in the AHL, the top four teams from each division make the playoffs. Unless the fifth place team from the eight team division has more standings points than (or wins a tiebreaker against) the fourth place team from the seven team division. I’d like to see the top two from each division qualify, and then go to wildcards. If all wildcards come from one division, then so be it.
Don’t even get me started about the seeding/format/schedule of the AHL playoffs. It makes no sense to start a second round playoff series while there are still other first round series in progress. Again, they should do like the NHL and re-seed after each round.
The AHL schedule will be released “later this summer”, and I’m expecting to see a lot of games against Norfolk on the schedule. They are, by far, the closest team. As the crow flies, Charlotte and Norfolk are 283 miles apart. In a bus, it’s 327 miles. Last season, the Rats played against the Adirondack Phantoms 12 times. Partly because of their proximity and partly because of that Time-Warner Challenge Cup that they had going on. The Rats absolutely owned that series, winning the one and only Challenge Cup.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.