The Daily Gazette
The Locally Owned Voice Of The Capital Region

Catching up: AHL changes

I was on vacation last week when a couple important items of news broke on the AHL front — unlike many of my vacations, this one was completely hands-off, as far as work goes — and I didn’t get a chance to mention them. So I will now.

Both of these showed up in our print edition, so we didn’t completely ignore them.

First, the AHL Board of Governors approved a division realignment for the upcoming season. The notable changes that impact the Albany Devils surround the move of the Phantoms to Allentown and of the Heat to Glens Falls.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will remain in the Eastern Conference, but will move from the Northeast Division to the East Division. This makes sense, as now that division has the three Pennsylvania teams (along with the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins), the Binghamton Senators and the Norfolk Admirals. Geographically, it looks good.

The Atlantic Division still has the Manchester Monarchs, Portland Pirates, Providence Bruins, St. John’s IceCaps and Worcester Sharks.

The Northeast Division still has the Albany Devils, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Hartford Wolf Pack and Springfield Falcons, and inherits the Syracuse Crunch to replace the departed Phantoms.

The Adirondack Flames in Glens Falls are in the North Division of the Western Conference, along with the Hamilton Bulldogs, Rochester Americans, Toronto Marlies and Utica Comets.

It’s a bit weird, because there are now two New York teams east of Syracuse in the Western Conference.

More than weird, it is flat-out inconvenient for the Albany Devils and Adirondack Flames. Albany and Adirondack used to play the Northway Rivalry, with 12 games against each other four of the last five seasons (and 10 in the 2011-12 campaign). Those games were good for both teams because of the increased attendance when the fanbase from 53 miles away traveled well.

What are the chances the AHL schedules 10 or 12 games between teams in opposite conferences?

It’s probably more likely they play each other eight times, as Syracuse and Rochester have the past two seasons. The Crunch and Americans played each other 10 times each of the previous three seasons, but even if the Devils and Flames get that many dates against each other, their attendance numbers could suffer for each fewer home contest against their closest geographic opponent.

The truth is, though, the geography of the AHL doesn’t lend itself to a satisfying divisional alignment, no matter how you slice it.

The other news item from last week was the BOG approval of rules changes.

The highlight was the change to overtime. We used to see a five-minute, four-on-four extra period, then a shootout. There were 178 shootouts in the 2013-14 regular season, and there’ll probably be considerably fewer this coming season.

That’s because overtime will now last seven minutes. At the first stoppage of play after the first three minutes, that four-on-four hockey will become three-on-three.

If the game remains tied after overtime, there will be a shootout, but the shootout will be a three-player affair, reduced from what had been a five-shooter contest.

Personally, I’m not all too crazy about this. Too many moving parts, seems gimmicky, and I don’t usually care for gimmicks. All it does is reduce the number of shootouts. I’ve got no problem with that, but if shootouts are such a bad thing, if they’re such a coin toss, why not just eliminate them altogether?

Ah. Right. Because the NHL has them, and the players in the AHL have to be prepared for that aspect of the next level, as well.

The other rules changes included Rule 20.4 (Major Penalties): An automatic game misconduct will be applied to any player who has been assessed two major penalties for fighting or three major penalties for any infraction in the same game.

And Rule 9.6 (Helmets): A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play will be assessed a minor penalty unless he immediately (a) exits the playing surface or (b) puts the helmet back on with the chin strap properly fastened.

I’m for the helmet bit, player safety and all, but what player is going to take the time to pick up his helmet, place it on his head and then adjust the chin strap? Can’t wait till I see someone do that while the play is going on around them.

Maybe the major penalties rule will get a few other guys involved in the fisticuffs. If the enforcer(s) already have a fight in the books, maybe another role player or two has to step up if the moment calls for it. I don’t know that I necessarily see the need for this rule change, but I don’t think it’s such a bad idea. Who knows, though? As the season wears on, as opponents try to instigate fights with guys who already have one, maybe I will change my mind.

That’s probably all for now. I won’t be going down to Newark for anything this summer or fall, but once the Devils start sending guys up to Albany, I’ll be a little more on top of things.

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