Understanding The Unusual Playoff Format In The AHL

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In the AHL, it’s all about points percentage and not points. The Wolf Pack’s division is the toughest one in the league. The Atlantic Division is a dogfight for the playoffs, while the North division is weaker. The rules for reaching the postseason vary each season. Two years ago, when Hartford missed the playoffs by a few points, the league allowed crossovers. For instance, a team with a better points percentage in the Atlantic division could take a playoff spot from the North division, generally beating out the third place team in the North. However, for the last two seasons, crossovers have been disallowed; meaning there are four spots available for qualification in each division. However, the AHL is constantly undergoing realignment with their team’s relocating often.

Current Format

Because of all of this relocation, the divisions are unbalanced. This means that the Atlantic Division will have four playoff spots for eight teams, while the North will have four spots with seven teams. Due to team’s playing fewer games in the Pacific division (68 as opposed to 76), the league goes by points percentage for clubs.

Is the Format Unfair?

Last season, Hartford’s rivals, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, missed the playoffs with 92 points. They finished in the fifth spot, while Providence occupied the fourth spot at 96 points. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was in first with 107, Lehigh Valley in second with 101, and Hershey in third with 97. To get to the playoffs in the Atlantic division is never easy. You would imagine that Bridgeport would’ve made the playoffs with that amount of points; and if the crossover rule existed, they would have.

The North division last year was noticeably weaker. First place belonged to Syracuse at 90 points.  The Marlies finished in second with 89 points, while Albany had 83 points in third. St. John’s had the final spot with 82 points. From Bridgeport’s standpoint, they were a better team than Toronto, Albany, and St. John’s. Those teams reached the postseason while Bridgeport could not participate. No crossovers lead to situations like the Sound Tigers.

Is it fair? The league should bring the rule back. It would give more competition to the divisions with fewer teams. Also, what if this happened to Hartford next season?  I would be fuming. The Atlantic division will always be stronger, but crossovers make the league just a little bit more exciting.

Guaranteed Teams to Make Playoffs

There are a few teams that will continually make the postseason in this league. Unfortunately, the Wolf Pack are not one of those teams. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are consistently strong. They have quality prospects and veterans and are expected to make the playoffs. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are on the rise and have retained a few players from last season, and bolstered their roster with quality veterans.  They look to compete against the Penguins for the top spot. The Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins normally fight for the other two spots. Both teams lost players this offseason and will be streaky at times during the season. They may be weaker, but they are still tough teams to face.

Examining the Future

Hartford is going to enter the season as a “middle of the road” team and will have a chance to reach the playoffs. And depending on how the chips fall around them, this could be one of their better seasons in recent history.

Ricky Milliner is a Hartford Wolf Pack season ticket holder. While growing up, he discovered hockey by attending a... More about Ricky Milliner

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