Well the Bears (and the AHL) announced what teams they will be playing for the upcoming 2011-12 season. (Dates will be announced later this summer...probably end of August based on last couple of years)
And the schedule is in no way balanced.
Hershey will play the following teams (home/away split provided):
East Division games:
Binghamton Senators (4/4)
Norfolk Admirals (5/5)
Syracuse Crunch (3/3)
Eastern Conference games:
Adirondack Phantoms (2/2)
Albany Devils (2/2)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (2/2)
Connecticut Whale (2/2)
Manchester Monarchs (2/2)
Portland Pirates (1/1)
Providence Bruins (1/1)
St. John's (2/2)
Springfield Falcons (1/1)
Worcester Sharks (1/1)
Western Conference games:
Charlotte Checkers (2/2)
Lake Erie Monsters (1/1)
Rochester Americans (1/1)
I know travel costs have to be taken into account for these schedules but how can you shift to a Conference playoff format and still have almost half of a teams games against just 4 teams?
Hershey will play East Division teams 36 times. Sure those are important as divisional races will heat up for the division crown, but unlike in years past the remaining playoff spots are determined at the CONFERENCE level and not the divisional level.
Honestly, look at the teams Hershey has to play the most...Wilkes-Barre, the #1 seed from last year...Binghamton, the Calder Cup Champs...and Norfolk, a team that came on extremely strong at the end of last season and gave the Pens a scare in the 1st round.
The schedule does seem somewhat balanced in that the "weaker" divisions don't seem to play as many games within their own divisions. Adirondack will only play 24 games within their division (which is considered the weakest in the AHL as the bottom 4 teams from the Conference and Connecticut, the 8th seed in the playoffs, make up the Northeast division). Unfortunately the AHL screws up again as the Phantoms won't play the new St. John's team at all and only has to play the Bears/Pens a combined 6 times.
In a divisional format (regular season) where teams are competing for division crowns within their own division, divisional games are more important. In the AHL's defense the divisional games are slightly less important than the past few years which saw divisional playoffs as well. This season the AHL moves to an NHL like Conference playoffs setup which does eliminate the need for balanced schedules to a point.
But these are just absurd.
The schedule creates an unfair advantage for certain teams. In the NHL these types of divisions do not usually create a problem because the schedule is ultimately balanced with every team playing the other ones the same number of games. In the NHL games are divided like this:
In Division - 6 games against each opponent (24 games)
In Conference (out of division) - 4 games against each opponent (40 games)
Out of Conference - 18 games against opponents
The only place where that isn't balanced is in the Out of Conference schedule where there could be some discrepancy on balance depending on what teams play who and where.
BUT in the division and in the conference everything is equal. The Flyers will play the Pens 6 times..as will the Rangers, Islanders, and Devils. The Flyers will play the Caps 4 times...as will the rest of the Atlantic and Northeast divisions.
And yet in the AHL the Bears will play the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 12 times in 2011-12 while the Syracuse Crunch will only play them 8 times.
The Penguins will play the Portland Pirates (Atlantic Division champs last season) 4 times while Hershey will only play them 2 times.
Norfolk plays the Pens and Bears 10 times each but only gets Syracuse 4 times. AND they will only play 4 games against the Western Conference...all against Charlotte. (Some Eastern Conference teams won't play a Western Conference opponent at all!)
Syracuse will only play 26 games within the division this season. 10 games LESS than the Bears will. And they play the Rochester Americans (in the Western Conference) 10 times. That is more than they will play any single team in their own division.
How is it that one team in the East Division gets 10 fewer division games then another?? Shouldn't they be playing the same teams as everyone else they are competing with in the division?
In addition to that...I thought the new alignment would create the opportunity to see new teams in Hershey during the regular season or at least more of certain teams then we have in the past. And yet we are actually going to see one fewer team this season than last. In 2010-11 the Bears were visited by 18 different teams...in 2011-12 that number drops to 17.
I guess in the end it doesn't really matter. Balanced schedules haven't been part of the AHL before and it hasn't seemed to effect Hershey that much. In the end maybe the tougher schedule gets them more prepared for the playoffs.
Who knows. Maybe I am just still upset about the whole realignment/playoff changes that they instituted (I am by the way) but I still think a balanced schedule could work.
In the end ticket sales and limiting travel costs win out in the AHL. And in the end I will still pay for season tickets and write this blog.
I just want hockey to start so we can stop talking about this relatively unimportant stuff and start talking about wins and losses!!