Each summer the American Hockey League’s Board of Governors meet in July to discuss which improvements or changes to implement for the following season.
This time around we will see three rule changes and a quite incredible adjustment to the playing schedule that will have severe consequences for many teams.
I’ll go through them one by one with my view on each
Rule 79 (“Video Review”)
• A team may use a “coach’s challenge” to initiate an official video review; only those situations which are subject to review by rule may be challenged.
• A team may only request a coach’s challenge if it has its timeout available, and the coach’s challenge must be effectively initiated prior to the resumption of play.
• If the coach’s challenge does not result in the original call on the ice being overturned, the team exercising such challenge will be charged with a timeout.
At first glance I really liked this new rule, which many have been calling for a long while now. At closer inspection I have some reservations, especially with part two of the ruling. Should a coach really be penalised by losing an “early timeout” on a call or not be able to challenge a call because he has already called his solitary timeout? I understand the league’s need to stop coach’s challenging just for the hell of it, but equally aren’t we also trying to make the game better by challenging poor calls?
The AHL’s use of video is nowhere near on the scale of the NHL and at times it’s been an arduous job for officials to check a goal review let alone any other call on the ice and unless the camera policy is to improve in every building, it makes this rule almost ineffective.
How it plays out should be fascinating to watch.
Rule 76.4 (“Face-offs”)
• For all face-offs (excluding center ice), the defending player shall place his stick on the ice first; for face-offs at center ice, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first.
This new ruling came from left field and was certainly the only one to take me by surprise. Again I can see the reasoning but perhaps my thinking is old school with my reasoning for keeping the old ways of a home team having every advantage possible, making it tough for the visitors.
I wonder in time if this might be extended to line changes along a similar theme from face-offs/stoppages in play and I wouldn’t be in favour of that also.
Rule 85 (“Overtime”)
• During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be five minutes (5:00) in length.
• Full playing strength will be 3-on-3 (plus goaltenders) for the entire period.
• Overtime will be preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.
• Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.
• If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.
Most knew the first part of this rule was changing when the NHL adopted it for 2015/16.
Personally I didn’t see the problem with the rule from last year (Seven minute OT: 4-on-4 for three minutes with remainder at 3-on-3) as is made for some exciting hockey. Across the league it was the consensus of everyone from coaches to fans to play by play guys that it was the abolishment of the “dry scrape” that was required. The lull of the dry scrape after 60 minutes of hockey does nothing to enhance the experience of the game for the fan or the players, who doubtless go a little cold on the bench and even lose focus.
• The 2015-16 regular season will consist of 1,120 games, played between Oct. 9 and Apr. 17. All teams will play 76 games each with the exception of the clubs which joined the AHL in January as part of the creation of a Pacific Division (Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, Stockton); those five teams will play 68 games each.
• 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 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs, with one exception in each conference: if the fifth-place team in the Atlantic or Central Division finishes with a better points percentage than the fourth-place team in the North or Pacific Division, it would cross over and compete in the other division’s bracket.
• The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs will feature a divisional playoff format, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup Finals.
• The division semi-finals are best-of-five series; all subsequent rounds are best-of-seven.
Those of us who follow the league knew the 68 game rule was coming for the new teams but the stark realisation is a bitter pill to swallow for the rest of the league.
It will be the second time a cut has been made to the number of games in the schedule in recent times, but the first where a select few teams will contest fewer games than the rest of the league.
I’ve no idea how the American Hockey League considers this system fair, especially to those competing in the Central Division of the Western Conference, where teams will have to win far more games than their “Californian Five“ opponents.
The Chicago Wolves finished 8th in the Western Conference (taking the last playoff spot) last season with a points percentage of 0.572, a record of 40-29-6-1. Playing 68 rather then 76 games, a team in the Pacific Division could equally win and lose four games less, finishing 36-25-6-1 with a points percentage 0.001 more than the aforementioned Chicago.
Any which way you cut it, wins carry more stature by teams in the Pacific Division, as per @100degreehockey victories for those five new teams are worth 1.47% in the standings as opposed to 1.32% for the rest of the league. By the same mark then, losing overtime points are again worth more to those Pacific teams.
The new system could also thro up more injustices in regards the finishing standings.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that a team that finishes sixth in the Atlantic or Central Division could miss out despite having a better points percentage than the fourth placed team across the way.
It’s all very unsatisfactory and the question marks don’t end there as regards the fairness of this.
What about individual awards or scoring races?
The veteran rule (320 games) will have to be looked at as guys in the Pacific will obviously take longer to reach that mark. In the same regard the rookie rule might also need tinkering with.
Salaries and Per Diems will be an issue
Those five Pacific teams will have lessened travel, fewer games and therefore less wear and tear on bodies, which is obviously an advantage through the season and heading into the playoffs.
As of now there is no CBA for next season which would encompass many of these issues but there really are so many unanswered questions at this point.