Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 11

Antler Banter returns today, and it's hard to believe that the Moose have been in town for eleven weeks already! There hasn't been much noise out of Moose camp yet since these weekly updates have started, but there has been lots of AHL news to catch up on, and the Banter is all over it. If you haven't heard, the AHL broke out a bunch of rule changes this week, and we'll take a look at those individually. There were some player signings by a few teams, an AHL coach who is returning to his team, and a new coach for the same team as we work through this edition of Antler Banter. We'll also have some breaking news as one AHL team is debuting a new look today! It might be summer, but it's a busy day for the Banter, so let's get this going!

Schedule Changes

The AHL released the regular season format, and there will be some changes compared to previous seasons in the AHL. The season will see 1120 games played between October 9 and April 17. All teams outside of the Pacific Division will play their normal 76 games each, but the newly-formed Pacific Division will see the five teams - Bakersfield, Ontario, San Diego, San Jose, and Stockton - play just 68 games each.

While I understand that travel costs are always an issue for teams located two time zones away from everyone else, the AHL should have looked at moving the affiliates of the Arizona Coyotes and the Vancouver Canucks a little further west than Springfield, Massachusetts and Utica, New York to follow the NHL alignment. But who am I to think logically?

Eight Games Mean A Lot

According to the AHL release, "The top four teams in each division ranked by points percentage (points earned divided by points available) will qualify for the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs, with one exception in each conference: 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."

Because each point in the seven-team Pacific Division is weighted more heavily than the rest of the league because they play less total games, wins and losses could be huge teams trying to make the playoffs down the stretch. For example, if the Manitoba Moose battle all season and finish in fifth-place in the Central Division with a 35-33-4-4 record, they'd have a points percentage of .513 and 78 points. However, if the San Jose Barracuda finish the season in fourth-place in the Pacific Division with a 30-30-4-4 record, they'd have a points percentage of .500 despite only having 68 points, and would miss the playoffs because the Moose have a better points percentage total. Increase that record to 31-29-4-4, and suddenly the Barracuda have a .515 point percentage and are in the playoffs.

Each point in the Pacific Division weighs 0.0074 while the Central sees a weight of 0.0066. In other words, wins and losses mean more in the Pacific Division for those seven teams than it does for the Central Division. We'll see how this unfolds at the end of the season when that eight-game difference comes into play.

I Know You

The Calder Cup Playoffs will now start in a divisional format rather than their traditional conference seedings. The division semifinals - aka the first round - are best-of-five series while the remaining three rounds are best-of-seven series. That means you'll see more of the teams you like to hate as divisional foes will begin to etch out rivalries. Personally, I like this idea as a number of the old IHL nemeses - Chicago, Manitoba, Grand Rapids, and Milwaukee - will battle it out for Central Division supremacy once more!

Other Rules And Changes

The overtime period moves to three-on-three action for the entire five minute period with teams changing ends at the start of overtime, meaning that the long change comes into effect.

The "coach's challenge" becomes a thing in the AHL, and there are a few rules one must follow to initiate a coach's challenge to have a play video reviewed. First, there are only specific rules and situations that can be challenged that the AHL didn't specify, although I assume that will be made clear very shortly. Second, a coach must have a timeout available to be used and must initiate the challenge before play resumes after a stoppage. Third, if a team fails on its challenge, they will be charged a timeout.

As an aside on these challenges, I can see this being done late in games when coaches want a longer-than-thirty-second timeout for a tired unit. Normally, video reviews last for a minute to a few minutes, so I can see a wily coach calling for a review so his players can catch their wind. I'm sure there will be something built into the rule where a challenge can't be made in the final minute or a variation of that, but expect coaches to try and blow open a loophole if they can.

Finally, for all non-center ice face-offs, the defending player shall place his stick on the ice first. For face-offs occurring at center ice, the visiting player shall place his stick on the ice first. This was a suggestion made by NHL GMs, and it appears that the AHL will test it out to see how effective it is.

Some Signings

A few notable player signings made in the past week include:

  • Forward Matt Carey, formerly of Rockford, signed a standard player's contract with the Iowa Wild.
  • Forward Oscar Lindberg re-signed with the Hartford Wolfpack.
  • Forward Zach O'Brien, formerly of Manchester, will skate with Chicago Wolves this season instead of moving to Ontario.
  • Forward Shane Prince re-signed with Ottawa and will most likely play with the Binghamton Senators this season.
  • Center Brody Sutter re-signed with the Hurricanes and will likely skate this season with the Charlotte Checkers.
  • Defenceman Alex Petrovic re-signed with Florida and will likely anchor the blue line in San Antonio once more.
  • Winger Quinton Howden re-signed with Florida and will also appear for the Rampage this season.
  • Winger John McFarland also re-signed with Florida and will most likely skate with the Rampage as well.
  • Center Marc-Louis Aubry re-signed with the Detroit Red Wings and will most likely play with the Griffins this season.
  • Defenceman Dylan McIlraith re-upped with the Rangers and will continue to hone his skills in Hartford.

One New Coach...

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Philadelphia Flyers announced on Monday that Scott Gordon will be the new head coach for the Phantoms. The 52 year-old joins the Flyers organization after serving as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs for three seasons from 2011-2014. He was also the head coach for the New York Islanders for 181 games. Previous to his stint with the Islanders, Gordon served as the head coach with the Providence Bruins where he coached the Bruins to five Calder Cup Playoff berths in six seasons.

"We are extremely pleased to add Scott to our organization as head coach of our top affiliate in the Lehigh Valley," said Flyers general manager Ron Hextall. "He brings in a proven track record of success and knowledge as a coach at all levels, and we are confident he can help develop our prospects through our system, as well as lead the Phantoms back to the Calder Cup Playoffs."

Scott Gordon is an excellent head coach, and should make an impact with the Phantoms at the AHL level.

... And One Old Coach

The Phantoms and Flyers also announced that Riley Cote will return to the Phantoms as an assistant coach for the coming season under Gordon. The 33 year-old will enter his sixth season as an assistant coach with the Phantoms. His experience in winning a Calder Cup with the Phantoms in 2005 should once again prove invaluable for the younger players joining the Phantoms this season. The Winnipeg native also played in 156 NHL games with the Flyers.

Always good to see a hometown kid doing well for himself!

Brand New Look

The Milwaukee Admirals will be bringing in a new look tonight at 6pm Milwaukee time! According to the release by the Admirals, "[t]here will be a fashion show to reveal the new jerseys and other merchandise, all of which will be available at the event" starting at 6:30 where the team will unveil the new jerseys and logo for the upcoming season.

I can tell you right now that the bone font is alright, but the rest of the font with the funky angles and stuff doesn't fly for me. Personally, I liked the Admirals' set of jerseys they were wearing for the last few years, and I don't think they really need to change. What I suspect is that they'll look a lot more like Nashville, their NHL affiliate, with this change, and I don't approve of that. I like when minor-league teams have their own identities.

That's all for tonight on this week's Antler Banter, but I'll be back with more next week as our looks into the AHL continue!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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