The American Hockey League’s new schedule and playoff format is bizarre.
And AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews is more than willing to admit it.
When five teams play less games than the rest of the league, it’s a bit of a head scratcher.
“It looks strange, to say the least,” Andrews said in a phone interview Wednesday. “But it’s the product of a lengthy negotiation which resulted in very good things for our league in terms of western expansion and keeping 30 AHL teams and 30 NHL teams together.”
Those negotiations go back three years to when five Western-based NHL teams started working with the AHL to move their minor-league affiliates closer to home. The five new California teams — which are owned by their NHL parent clubs — also wanted to play less games, allowing for more practice time.
In the end, the California five — San Diego Gulls, Ontario Reign, San Jose Barracuda, Stockton Heat, and Bakersfield Condors — will play 68 games. The rest of the league will play 76, including their new Pacific Division rivals the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage. The playoffs will be based on points percentage.
“We felt it was in the best interest of our league to allow the California teams play that schedule, which was their wish,” Andrews said. “I don’t want to make light of the difference in scheduling. But over the course of our eight-month season, eight games is not going to make or break the competitive advantage … it’s troubling. But not troubling enough for us not to do what we did.”
Andrews also confirmed the California teams will play other teams in the Western Conference, including Texas and San Antonio.
“They’re not playing the California teams in the same frequency as the California teams are playing themselves,” Andrews said. “And the California teams are playing other teams in the Western Conference. But, they are playing themselves predominantly.”
To be fair, Texas and San Antonio agreed to this setup.
The AHL considered keeping a six-division format, with the five California teams in one division. But Texas and San Antonio were geographic outliers in a league now predominantly split between two coasts.
“The Texas teams are in the same division with the California teams, and that was basically by choice,” Andrews said. “We looked at the greatest options they had. If we went to a six-division format, they weren’t very attractive from a geographic perspective. So both Texas and San Antonio felt that being in a grouping with the California teams was the best package they could get.”
It’s also not locked in as the future of the AHL.
“Nothing in our business is cast in stone,” Andrews said. “We’ll see how the next season plays out and go from there.”