2016-17 AHL rules changes and alignment

The American Hockey League’s board of governors have met and delivered some interesting changes for the 2016-17 season.

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 semi-finals 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.

The AHL now has an imbalance in the conference’s with the East featuring 14 teams and the West now bolstered to 16.
There really wasn’t a need for this to be the case, as the Charlotte Checkers could easily have been shifted back to the Eastern Conference.
The Checkers will stay put in the Midwest Division, which remains exactly the same and the Tucson Roadrunners join the Pacific Division.
Arizona’s new affiliate, along with Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose and Stockton will play just 68 regular season games in 2016-17.
This means we will again have to deal with the points percentage system, which for many, myself included, was a continual source of frustration last year.

Somewhat lost in this mix is the fact that 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.“
So no cross-over at all between divisions or conference in this instance and does give the Eastern Conference teams an edge in the fact they only need to avoid finishing in the bottom two of their division. It’s a system which looks reminiscent of junior hockey and doubtless there will be a situation where fifth place (or lower) teams in the Western Conference finish with a higher points percentages than those who qualify in the East.

AHL 2016-17 Divisons

The jersey rule is a complete head scratcher and I see no logic in this whatsoever.
It’d make a whole lot more sense to apply this ruling for the entirety of the season, and I wonder if the change extends into the playoffs?
A bizarre decision from the league and I would love to know their reasoning.

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.

Fighting has never been a bigger talking point than it is right now in hockey and these changes have not been welcomed in all quarters.
I think the majority of fans and pundits agree that staged fighting is dumb, unwarranted and needs to be taken out of the game if possible, so at least a game misconduct for the offense is a step forward.
I do wonder though, how long after a face-off does a fight have to take place for that penalty to be enforced?
I’ve heard many complaints that the players who have fought nine times thorough the season will be taunted/goaded into fighting for a tenth time to earn a suspension.
To be honest I’ve little sympathy and perhaps the fighting for fighting’s sake, will cease due to the incremental suspicions after ten infractions.
This ruling will actually affect very few players in the league if you take last season as a guide.

A total of 22 players fought on ten or more occasions, with eight of those breaching the 14 fight mark.
Of those eight, six are due to be back in the AHL next season

Michael Liambas was the worst offender last season, with twenty fights to his name, at an average almost of one every two games. Now back with Milwaukee after spending last season with Rockford (accounted for a third of Icehogs total fights), he’s someone who will need to look at his in-game management. If unable to adjust, Liambas will be spending a copious amount of time in a suit come game time.

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.

The intention here is to try to increase goals scored and doubtless try to stop teams dumping the puck out of the zone late in a tight game. It’s a small change, one that I like, and it’ll be interesting to note how many times this potentially leads to a goal.

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 “dry scrape” has finally been banished! As much as I’m not a fan of the shootout, the dry scrape was a total buzz kill as far as the atmosphere was concerned as I’m sure the players didn’t appreciate having to stand around for five minutes.

An omission from an rule changes that I would like to have seen, revolves around officiating. Far too often we had games officiated by just a single referee. With the new agreement in place with the NHL, I would have hoped the extra money available would have pushed forward a much needed improvement, in what’s supposed to be a development league for ALL involved.

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