AHL Approves Division Alignment & Rule Changes

On July 7th, at their annual meetings in Hilton Head, SC, the AHL Board of Governors approved the alignment of the divisions and made some rule changes to take effect this coming season. The reaction on Twitter, from what I could tell, ranged anywhere from apathy to all-out anger. While I recognize this opinion piece is being published five days after the fact, please take into account that I was here up until Saturday afternoon:

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Now, however, I am back and you are going to have to listen to my hot sports take on each of these issues whether you agree or not–and based on most reactions I’ve seen, you won’t.

Divisions

First we come to the alignment of the divisions. Anyone following the league closely knew that the California Five–now plus one in Tucson–would continue to play 68 games to everyone else’s 76 game schedule. I still think it’s silly and unprofessional. But the milk has been spilled and cleaned up. Crying time is over.

Rampage fans were hoping to be moved out of said division this season. One more year Rampage fans. One more year. When Las Vegas gets their inevitable Pacific Time Zone AHL team, and Vancouver possibly leaves Utica, the Pacific Division will have their eight teams. When this happens, I expect Charlotte will join the Atlantic and San Antonio and Texas will jump to the Central Division where sense will finally be made.

When that does finally happen, those 8 western teams can play 30 games for all I care.

Now, the rule changes. I’ll start with the least controversial and work my way up to the one that brings out the most passion.

All rules copied from AHL Press Release

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.”

Fine by me. I thought in certain markets, AHEMSanAntonio, this made sense because our ice is terrible halfway through the period, let alone at the end of twenty minutes, but it did “take the air” out of the crowd more often than not. Sean Shapiro always timed the dry scrapes involving the Stars and it was almost always five to five and a half minutes long. That’s a long time to wait for an overtime and I’m good with it being eliminated.

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.

Also fine by me, though this one is pretty pointless, in my opinion. I understand the logic behind it, it could increase scoring, but the number of times this happens is small and, if anything, it could lead to more injuries as tired players are forced to stay on the ice.

• Teams will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.

This? This, I love! I have been begging and pleading for dark jerseys at home for about three seasons now. It’s just a break from the usual and gives even more variety now that the team is wearing home greys on Fridays. This was borrowed from the ECHL and I think it’s a terrific idea. It also will likely lead to more merchandise income for the team. Very few casual fans ever saw the road blacks in action and, the more eyes seeing it, the higher the likelihood of purchase.

Oh boy, here we go…

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.

If you are familiar with any of my work, you know I could do without fighting. I understand it’s place in the history of the game, and I can understand it’s usefulness (at times) in policing the game. I will never be a fan of what is addressed in the first bullet point. Orchestrated and organized fights have no place. It appeals to the lowest common denominator and serves zero strategic purpose. In a time where the NHL is seeing former “enforcers” enter into lawsuits regarding concussions–or worse committing suicide–this type of behavior needs to go away.

This rule change won’t eliminate fighting. This rule change eliminates pointless fighting. Players will still be able to police what they consider to be cheap-shots. They are just going to have to pick and choose their spots now. If they can’t control themselves, they can watch from a suite. Long gone are the days of skating fists that have no other noticeable skill to bring to the table. And I am A-Ok with that.

Standings will still be decided by points percentage, but gone are the crossover playoff spots. Top four teams in each division make the playoffs.

Next year will be another interesting summer. With St John’s moving to Laval, Ottawa looking to move their AHL affiliate to Belleville, and Vancouver possibly looking westward, there is more movement on the horizon. The AHL, to the dismay of some of the old school folks, is becoming a true developmental league, constantly changing.

Whether these constant changes are a good thing or not, remains to be seen. I’d guess a lot of it has to do with your point of view.

 

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