Division Alignment & Rule Changes for AHL's 2016-17

Thursday, July 7, 2016
Is it the beginning of the end for fighting in pro hockey? Photo: Nina Weiss
The American Hockey League's (AHL) annual Board of Govenor's meeting concluded today, which means divisional realignment, rule changes and some new things were announced for the AHL's 2016-17 regular season.

The most controversial topic among these edits for this fall comes to Rule 46 'Fighting' and Rule 23 'Game Misconducts' which entails suspensions for players who drop the gloves more than 10 times this fall. It'll certainly be interesting to see how this and all of the new changes for next season play out over the course of the year.

After the jump, a look at all the changes for the 2016-17 season.

Division Alignment

The major change in the new divisions for the AHL's 2016-17 season is that the Portland Pirates are no longer - the Florida Panthers new affiliate is the Springfield Thunderbirds - and that the new AHL team Tucson Roadrunners - Arizona Coyotes affiliate - will be playing in the Pacific Division with the California teams. Like the 'California Five', Tucson will also play just 68 games in 2016-17 unlike the rest of the league which will play 76 games - making last year's points percentage in the Pacific Division a continued statistic in determining that division's playoff seeding.

Here are a look at the divisions for 2016-17:


Atlantic Division

Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Hartford Wolf Pack
Hershey Bears
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
Providence Bruins
Springfield Thunderbirds
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

North Division

Albany Devils
Binghamton Senators
Rochester Americans
St. John's IceCaps
Syracuse Crunch
Toronto Marlies
Utica Comets


Central Division

Charlotte Checkers
Chicago Wolves
Grand Rapids Griffins
Iowa Wild
Lake Erie Monsters
Manitoba Moose
Milwaukee Admirals
Rockford IceHogs

Pacific Division

Bakersfield Condors
Ontario Reign
San Antonio Rampage
San Diego Gulls
San Jose Barracuda
Stockton Heat
Texas Stars
Tucson Roadrunners

From the AHL's press release:
Playing Schedule/Standings

• The 2016-17 regular season will consist of 1,116 games, played between Oct. 12 and Apr. 16. All teams will play 76 games each with the exception Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton and Tucson, who will play 68 games each. The full league schedule will be announced later this summer.

• Teams will receive two points for a win and one point for an overtime or shootout loss. The top four teams in each division ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available) will qualify for the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs.

• The 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs will feature a divisional playoff format, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup Finals. The division semifinals are best-of-five series; all subsequent rounds are best-of-seven.

• Teams will wear light jerseys at home until the Christmas break, and dark jerseys at home after the Christmas break.
Not much in the way of changes here, although the switching of jerseys halfway through the season will be a welcomed change for home fans who typically only see their team wear the home white jerseys year-round.

Next up, the controversial new fighting/misconducts rule that will take effect in the AHL for the upcoming 2016-17 season, per the league's press release:
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.
Put into perspective, only 19 AHL players had 10 or more fighting majors last season. Just seven of those 19 had at least 14 fights. While the suspension part of the fighting rule seems like it will be hard for most to attain, it still brings into question the ability of a team's enforcer to protect one of his teammates from illegal/dirty/questionable/unpenalized hits and the overall safety of the players from such hits if said enforcer is approaching suspension for his next altercation.

Example: Team A is playing Team B late in the regular season. Team A's most noted physical players have nine fighting majors on the season entering the game. What is to stop Team B from taking liberties at Team A's skilled players if they know the opponents' muscle can't retaliate without suspension.

Like it or not, the game misconduct rule for fighting before, during or immediately after a face-off comes with its grey areas, but overall will eliminate the staged fights that occur regularly at the AHL level.

Overall, it's an interesting step for the league to take and one that ultimately will be looked back on as the first step towards cracking down on fighting in hockey at the professional level.

The final two rule changes for the 2016-17 are much more black and white:
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.”
The icing rule makes sense. If a team ices the puck, they shouldn't be allowed to give those players a rest with a 30-second timeout - even if the team can only do it once. It further deters players from icing the puck and will continue to help keep a good pace/flow to the game.

Possibly the best rule change, the elimination of the dry scrape before overtime will prevent the break between the end of regulation and the beginning of overtime from becoming nearly an extra intermission like between periods during regulation. Reporters won't have the luxury of an extra 10 minutes before overtime starts to finish up their game stories, but for the fans it will make it more exciting not having to wait those 10 plus minutes for the three on three overtime.


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