The top minor league in North American Hockey will be undergoing a few changes in the next couple of seasons.
This past Sunday, American Hockey League President and CEO Scott Howson and the AHL Board of Governors announced details involving season length, division alignment, and the number of teams that will partake in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Starting in time for this fall, the teams that make up the Atlantic, North, and Central Divisions will be able to play either 72 or 76 games this season, while the Pacific will play 68.
The 16 team playoff format that mirrors the NHL will also see a change as more teams will soon be admitted possibly via a play-in format similar to the NBA. The details will be released fully at a later date.
The Calder Cup Playoffs haven’t increased in teams since 1996 when the postseason went from 12 teams to 16.
The Pacific Division will also welcome the Canucks affiliate which will play in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The Abbotsford franchise which has yet to be named will be the first AHL team in the city since 2013-14. The Utica Comets affiliation switches from Vancouver to the New Jersey Devils for next season.
The realignments of divisions that were similar to how the league looked before the COVID-19 pandemic further confirm to all that the AHL’s Canadian Division will remain in the history books as a one-year necessity. Belleville, Toronto, and Laval will return to the North Division while Stockton will return to the Pacific.
The 2021-22 season will also be the final year for teams playing a different amount of games as in 2022-23, there will be a fully unified schedule of 72 games for all teams. 2022-23 will also see further expansion as the Seattle Kraken’s affiliate in Palm Springs, California will begin play. The AHL hasn’t had a unified schedule since the 2014-15 season.
Since 2015-16, the AHL has used two schedule lengths upon the creation of the Pacific Division, a 76 game schedule length for the Atlantic, North, and Central and a 68 game schedule for the California and Colorado-based teams in the Pacific Division. The various schedule lengths have also meant that AHL standings have been based on point percentage instead of points for the post-season.
The Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage also spent time in the Pacific but played a 76-game schedule in line with the rest of the AHL. Texas and San Antonio would be moved into the Central Division for the 2018-19 season.