When the American Hockey League begins its 68th season there will be a new look to the league in divisional alignment and a new team added to the fold, keeping the league at 28 teams.
For the past two seasons the AHL has gone with three divisions per conference, but this year the league will go to four seven team divisions. This was done for the betterment of the league and the economics of the playoffs. In doing it this way the AHL hopes to cut travels costs to each team during the regular season and in the playoffs by creating divisional rivalries.
In the Eastern Conference the Atlantic Division will consist of the Hartford Wolf Pack, Lowell Lock Monsters, Manchester Monarchs, Portland Pirates, Providence Bruins, Springfield Falcons and Worcester IceCats.
East Division features the Albany River Rats, Binghamton Senators, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Hershey Bears, Norfolk Admirals, Philadelphia Phantoms and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
In the Western Conference the North Division will consist of the Hamilton Bulldogs, Toronto Roadrunners, Manitoba Moose, St. John’s Maple Leafs, Cleveland Barons, Rochester Americans and Syracuse Crunch.
The West Division features the Utah Grizzlies, San Antonio Rampage, Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, Milwaukee Admirals and Houston Aeros.
The AHL will also introduce a new playoff format. 20 teams will compete in the post season this year. Instead of teams being ranked by standings in the conference, teams will now be ranked within their division. The best-of-three series returns for the third straight year, but it will feature the fourth and fifth place teams in each division. The winner of those series advance to meet the top team in their own division, while the second and third teams play off. All series will be best out of seven following the first round.
Joining the league this year will be the Toronto Roadrunners, the new affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton was allowed to move their farm club to the Toronto area because as former co-owners of the Hamilton Bulldogs, their territorial rights included Toronto and were able to establish the Roadrunners in Toronto without AHL approval. The Roadrunners, who have signed a 49-year lease with the city to play on the CNE grounds, are spending $38 million to upgrade the Coliseum from 6,000 to 11,000 seats. Ten million of that will come from office products company Ricoh, who will pay $1 million per season over the next decade for ‘Ricoh Coliseum.’ Another $8 million came in the form of a grant from the city, who also arranged a $20-million loan for the team.
The AHL will remain a 28 team league after the Calgary Flames top affiliation the Saint John Flames folded after 10 years in the AHL due to economic problems. The Calgary Flames will now share and affiliation with the Lowell Lock Monsters with the Carolina Hurricanes. Also the Flames have an agreement with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL to send five players to that club.
Around the AHL
Manitoba Moose: Release defenseman and team captain Brian Chapman, defenseman Justin Kurtz heads for Germany, forward Jimmy Roy signs one year contract extension, defenseman Dallas Eakins signs with Moose.
Hamilton Bulldogs: Name Doug Jarvis as head coach and Ron Wilson as assistant coach.
Worcester Ice Cats: Sign right winger Jeremy Yabonski