>The off-season just wouldn’t be as much fun without the annual deluge of news and changes flowing forth from the AHL office in Springfield and cities around the league.
> Of course, the big news came earlier this month, when the AHL announced a slew of rules changes for the 2004-05 season. For long-time Griffins fans, the most welcome of these changes may be the implementation of a shootout for games that are tied at the conclusion of the standard five-minute overtime period.
> Fans at Van Andel Arena enjoyed the shootout during the Griffins’ days in the International Hockey League (1996-2001), although likely to a greater extent than the team itself, judging by its cumulative record of 36-45 in the extra sessions. In the AHL standings, teams will receive two points for a win, one point for a loss in overtime or in a shootout and zero points for a loss in regulation time.
>Other changes, most of which are intended to improve game flow and increase scoring opportunities, include:
- > “No-touch” icing - Automatic icing has been implemented, with icing infractions to be called and the play whistled dead when the puck crosses the goal line. Used in international, junior and college play, it should reduce serious injuries incurred during races for the puck.
- > Tag-up offside - In a delayed offside situation, the offending player(s) will be permitted to negate the offside by "tagging up" with the blue line. This rule was in effect from 1986-96 and will enable more flow in the forechecking aspect of the game while reducing the number of stoppages.
- > Larger neutral zone - The width of the blue lines and the center red line will be increased from 12 inches to 24 inches each, and passes will be permitted from the defensive edge of one blue line to the offensive edge of the other blue line, adding additional space to the neutral zone. Also, goal lines will be moved from 13 feet to 11 feet out from the end boards, and blue lines will be moved back accordingly to maintain a 60-foot attacking zone. This will increase the size of the neutral zone and reduce play behind the goals.
- > Goalie restrictions - The AHL will implement, for the first seven weeks of the 2004-05 regular season, a limited test of a rule restricting the areas where goaltenders may play the puck. This is a step designed to increase offensive opportunities without wholly eliminating a goaltender's ability to assist his defensemen. Following the completion of the test period, the AHL will evaluate the results and determine whether the rule's application will continue. Also, a recent decision to reduce the width of goaltenders’ pads from 12 to 10 inches has been delayed until the 2005-06 season, in deference to a request by the International Hockey Industry Association.
> Two other significant announcements came out of the annual AHL meetings in Hilton Head, S.C. First, the AHL has reduced the number of qualifying teams for the Calder Cup playoffs to 16 (from 20) by eliminating the qualifying round. The format will still feature a divisional playoff, leading to conference finals and ultimately the Calder Cup final. The top four teams from each division will qualify for the postseason, and all rounds will feature best-of-seven series.
Finally, the AHL Board of Governors approved the relocation of the inactive franchise owned by Howard Baldwin from Louisville , Ky. , to Des Moines , Iowa , to begin play in 2005-06. The team will play in the brand new, 15,585-seat Wells Fargo Arena.
Whew! We’ll give you a moment to digest all of this…
> Alright, now on to news from around the AHL:
> Binghamton – John Paddock, whose 495 AHL wins rank third all-time on the circuit, left the club to become an assistant coach with the parent Ottawa Senators. His replacement has yet to be named.
> Bridgeport – Majority ownership of the Sound Tigers was transferred to the New York Islanders, giving the NHL club complete control over the operations of its AHL affiliate.
> Edmonton/Toronto – The Toronto Roadrunners are relocating to Edmonton , effective for the 2004-05 season. Owned by the Edmonton Oilers, the Roadrunners will play their home games at Rexall Place , the Oilers’ home rink, and will remain in the AHL’s North Division.
> Hamilton – The Bulldogs, whose primary affiliation remains with the Montreal Canadiens, added a secondary agreement with the Dallas Stars.
> Houston – The Aeros adopted the red and green of the Minnesota Wild for their existing logo and modified their uniform to better reflect their primary affiliation. In addition, Houston has added a secondary affiliation with the Dallas Stars.
> Manitoba – Randy Carlyle, who led the Moose to a 178-133-49 record from 1996-2000, has been rehired as Manitoba ’s head coach, replacing Stan Smyl. He spent the last two seasons as an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals. In addition, the Moose are preparing to move into a new home this fall, as the $133.5 million MTS Centre is slated to open in November. They’ll play their first four home games at the Winnipeg Arena.
> Norfolk – The Admirals’ new uniform features the red and black of the parent Chicago Blackhawks, and they’ve dropped the anchor from their logo in favor of a puck-firing battleship. Recently, the future of hockey in Hampton Roads was solidified with a transfer of ownership from Mark Garcea and Page Johnson to a group led by the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club and its president, Ken Young.
> San Antonio – Steve Ludzik, who left San Antonio last Nov. 10 to become an assistant coach with the parent Florida Panthers, has returned as head coach of the Rampage. He replaces Scott Allen.
> Springfield – The Falcons will take to the ice this season under a new affiliation and a new coach. The Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning have replaced the Phoenix Coyotes and brought in long-time NHL player Dirk Graham as head coach, in lieu of Marty McSorley.
> Utah – The Grizzlies have a new NHL affiliate and a new coach as well. The Dallas Stars and Don Hay are out, replaced by Phoenix and former Coyotes’ assistant coach Pat Conacher.
> Worcester – The IceCats will sport an updated logo for their eleventh season of play, maintaining their original colors.