The AHL has announced changes for the upcoming season, including a change to the playoff format to accommodate the shortened, 68-game schedule for the five Californian clubs that will help make up the new Pacific Division in 2015-16.
To make way for one of the biggest changes in AHL history, the introduction of the Pacific Division, the NHL’s top affiliate announced there will be changes to the playoff format for the upcoming season.
In announcing changes to the rulebook for the 2015-16 season, the AHL Board of Governors also confirmed the five newest Californian franchises that help comprise the Pacific Division – Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose and Stockton – will play a reduced schedule of 68 games which will impact the playoff formatting.
Unlike the NHL, which has seeding dependent strictly on points, the AHL will move to a points percentage system in an attempt to make up for the six fewer games played by the Californian clubs. Teams will be ranked by points percentage – points earned divided by points available – with the possibility for one crossover team to compete within the Eastern or Western Conference’s other division.
From the AHL: “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.”
In addition to the change to the playoff format, the AHL will introduce several changes to their rules, some of which mirror changes that will take hold in the NHL this upcoming season. The AHL, like the NHL, will introduce expanded video review as well as include the coach’s challenge.
Like the NHL’s coach’s challenge, a coach can only contest a call should he have a timeout remaining or should the call in question come on a “reviewable play.” Should the play not be overturned – for instance, should a coach challenge a goal and the play remains a goal – the coach will be charged with their timeout.
The AHL will also introduce changes to faceoffs in an effort to help increase scoring throughout the league. The current rulebook states the visiting team must, in all zones, place their stick down first before the puck is dropped. However, with the new rule change, it will be the defending team – regardless of home ice – which is required to place its stick down before the attacking team. The only exception will be center ice, where the visiting team will still be required to have their stick placed on the ice first.
To mirror the NHL’s changes to overtime, the AHL will also go to a five-minute 3-on-3 extra period. In 2014-15, the AHL experimented with a seven-minute overtime that consisted of four minutes of 4-on-4, followed by three minutes of 3-on-3.
For the past several seasons, the AHL has been the breeding ground and test-zone for NHL rule changes, including things like widened bluelines, narrower zones and the no-touch trapezoid zone for goaltenders.