The American Hockey League has tinkered with it’s playoff eligibility format in recent seasons.
This is mostly to do with the shifting sands of teams – including a brand new Pacific Division in which eight teams are allowed to play fewer games than the remaining 22 through the regular season.
It’s a grossly unfair system in the West, that I’m sure many organisations in the Central Division are not enamoured with.
However I digress from the point I really wish to make regarding the Eastern Conference.
Because of the schedule in the West, points percentage rather than points total is used and playoff eligibility is determined by a teams position in their division, not the conference they’re competing in.
Only the top four from the North and Atlantic Division’s respectively shall qualify for the post-season, with no crossover in operation this year.
The Eastern Conference is making a mockery of those rules right now.
With approximately a quarter of the regular season remaining, it appears at least one Atlantic team is going to be punished because of an imbalanced system.
As thing stand on Monday, February 27, 2016, the four leading teams in the Eastern Conference would be the Atlantic’s 1-4.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Providence Bruins, Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Bridgeport Sound Tigers are comfortably above .600 at the time of writing.
Hershey Bears follow at .598 (6th in conference) but were above that mark before tasting defeat this past Sunday.
In the North, Syracuse Crunch have held the divisional lead since overhauling the Toronto Marlies in November. Syracuse are at exactly .600 thanks to a four game point streak (3-0-1-0).
Only the Albany Devils have hit the thirty win mark in the North and no team in the division has more than 66 points.
If any of top four in the North were competing in the Atlantic this season, they would be in an extremely tight spot to even compete for fourth spot.
Whoever finishes fifth in the Atlantic will certainly feel hard done by and let’s assume that’s Hershey for now. If they were to finish with their current points percentage, then that would have been good enough in any other 76 game season to qualify for the playoffs.
The Bears have dominated North Division opponents with a record of 11-4-2-0 at the present time, emphasising the difference in standard this season.
It wouldn’t be a huge stretch for those in positions of power to tinker with the system to make it fairer all round.
I would propose going back to an old school 1-8 conference style for qualification purposes and reward divisional winners with the top two seeds.
This would also do with away with the nonsense set to be repeated this season, where the best teams are forced to clash early in the post-season.
Toronto and Albany met in the second round last year, which arguably should have been the conference final.
In 2017 we are likely to see Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, Providence Bruins, Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Bridgeport Sound Tigers knock seven bells out of one another, while a team in the North will arguably have an easier route to the conference final.
I can’t even be accused of showing bias in this matter due to my Toronto Marlies link.
This is simply about rewarding teams for excellent play and success during the regular season and making sure the playoffs are as competitive as possible.
Surely it’s in the best interests of the league to have the best teams fighting it out at the most exciting time of the year.