The American Hockey League announced a major schedule overhaul on Wednesday, highlighted by the reduction of the regular season from 80 to 76 games.
Under the plan, the AHL playing calendar will be extended by a week in a further effort to decompress the schedule. As a consequence, the league will do away with all sequences in which teams play four games in five nights.
The first round of the Calder Cup playoff will also be reduced from a best-of-seven to a best-of-five series. All changes come into effect beginning with the 2011-12 season.
“As our league has grown in recent years, we have been working closely with the National Hockey League and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association to seek a solution to what has become a very onerous playing schedule,” AHL president David Andrews said in a press release.
“The wear and tear on our players has begun to affect player development and at times the quality of competition. These steps are intended to provide a safer environment for our players through increased rest and recovery time, and also to provide our fans with an even higher caliber of play as a result of reduced player fatigue.”
Tom Mauthe, president of the Abbotsford Heat, welcomed the changes. He’s pleased that four-games-in-five-nights gauntlets will be a thing of the past – the Heat had four such scenarios on home ice this season, and so many games in quick succession is a tough sell for fans.
Spreading a shorter regular season over a larger scheduling window could also mean fewer midweek dates, which also tend to be a tougher sell.
“Looking from a fan perspective, they’re going to see a better hockey product with more time for players to rest and prepare,” Mauthe pointed out.
The flip side of the coin is that with teams hosting two less home games, opportunities for revenue generation are decreased. But Mauthe is hopeful that a more fan-friendly schedule will help to make up that revenue.
“Our goal will be to recover that revenue by putting those fans into other games,” he said.