The American League rulebook has been revised for the coming season, and some significant rule changes are set to take effect. Most notably, overtime guidelines have been revamped in an effort to decide more games before the shootout, with 3-on-3 at the heart of the new format.
BY ROBIN SHORT
The American League rulebook has been revised for the coming season, and some significant rule changes are set to take effect.
Most notably, overtime guidelines have been revamped in an effort to decide more games before the shootout, with 3-on-3 at the heart of the new format.
Regular season overtime moves from five minutes to seven, with the first three minutes being played at 4-on-4 and the final four minutes at 3-on-3. The shift in players per side will occur after the first whistle beyond three minutes of elapsed time. The OT period will begin with a dry scrape and teams changing sides, in order to create the “long change” that theoretically generates scoring chances against tired lines.
If the score remains tied, the game is decided with a three-round shootout. The league previously decided shootouts in five rounds.
AHL president David Andrews said the league’s competition committee, comprised primarily of NHL assistant GMs, was behind the altered rules, but he noted the NHL did not mandate the changes.
“It’s really going to be exciting,” Andrews said. “I think a lot more games are going to be decided in overtime.”
Andrews acknowledges the shootout is still an exciting part of the game for fans, but concedes hockey purists, “which would include coaches and probably players,” are in favor of seeing the game determined by team play as opposed to a series of skater vs. goalie duels.
Another notable change is Rule 20.4, which targets players who take two fighting majors or three majors for any infraction in a single game. The offending player will now receive an automatic game misconduct.
Andrews was concerned with the rate of fighting in the AHL, which is higher than the NHL’s, and he spearheaded the rule change.
“When we look as those who are involved in those fights, they’re a lot of players who have been engaged in multiple fights per game,” said Andrews, entering his 21st season as the AHL’s president and CEO. “From a player safety perspective, I don’t think that’s a particularly healthy thing.”
With an eye to player safety, the league also implemented a rule that will see a minor penalty assessed to a player whose helmet comes off during play. Unless the player immediately heads for the bench or puts the helmet back on with the chinstrap fastened, he’ll be slapped with a two-minute infraction.
There were two franchise relocations over the off-season. The Flyers’ affiliate, the Phantoms, now calls Lehigh Valley, Pa., home after playing in Glens Falls, N.Y., as the Adirondack Phantoms. Adirondack is now home to Calgary’s farm team, the Flames, who transfer from Abbotsford, B.C.
But when the discussion arises regarding franchise movement in the AHL, the conversation invariably leads to inevitable westward relocation. Andrews says his league has been in discussions with western-based NHL teams for about two-and-a-half years, trying to satisfy those teams who desire AHL affiliates in more convenient proximity. Current NHL-AHL affiliations with vast geographical divides include Anaheim-Norfolk, Los Angeles-Manchester, San Jose-Worcester, Arizona-Portland and now Calgary-Adirondack.
“We are engaged in what is a very complex undertaking,” Andrews said. “It’s going to take some time and there is no set time frame for this to happen. There’s no critical date in place, nothing saying we’re pulling the trigger on this in 2015-16 or 2016-17.
“But I would say we’re getting close to some sort of timeline. There are meetings continuing.”
Part of the problem, of course: should some or each of these Western Conference NHL teams bring their AHL affiliates closer to home, what will happen to markets in Manchester, Worcester, Portland and Norfolk, who will be left without teams?
“If the NHL expanded, it would be lovely for us, because that would solve some issues,” Andrews said. “But as long as the NHL is at 30 teams, we won’t go beyond that. We don’t have the player supply. Manchester is a really strong franchise and there are probably existing teams in the American League that might take a look at Manchester and say, ‘You know what, that’s a pretty good market. Maybe it’s some place we should consider moving to.’ ”
“There is a potential domino effect of other teams moving to fill in gaps in cities that might lose a franchise. It’s a big complex issue. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not something that can be easily pulled together.”