Phantoms to switch divisions as AHL realigns

The American Hockey League took one more step towards mimicking the NHL on Tuesday, announcing a realignment plan that moves all 30 of its member clubs from four to six divisions.

Adirondack, which had been placed in the eight-team East Division of the Eastern Conference last season, now moves into the newly-created Northeast Division but remains in the Eastern Conference.

The Phantoms will be joined by the Albany Devils, Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Springfield Falcons and the re-branded Connecticut Whale.

Here is the full breakdown, thanks to the AHL’s release:

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Manchester Monarchs (LA)
Portland Pirates (PHX)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
St. John’s (WPG)
Worcester Sharks (SJ)

Northeast Division
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)
Albany Devils (NJ)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Connecticut Whale (NYR)
Springfield Falcons (CBJ)

East Division
Binghamton Senators (OTT)
Hershey Bears (WSH)
Norfolk Admirals (TB)
Syracuse Crunch (ANA)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

Western Conference
North Division
Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Rochester Americans (BUF)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)

Midwest Division
Charlotte Checkers (CAR)
Chicago Wolves (VAN)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Peoria Rivermen (STL)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)

West Division
Abbotsford Heat (CGY)
Houston Aeros (MIN)
Oklahoma City Barons (EDM)
San Antonio Rampage (FLA)
Texas Stars (DAL)

In addition, the format for the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs was also approved by the league’s Board of Governors.

Eight teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason, with the three division winners earning the top three seeds and the next five best teams in order of regular-season points seeded fourth through eighth.

The conference quarterfinals will be best-of-five series; the conference semifinals, conference finals and Calder Cup Finals will be best-of-seven series. Teams will be re-ordered after the first round so that the highest-remaining seed plays the lowest-remaining seed.

The regular-season schedule format is still to be determined, and the complete playing schedule for the 2011-12 regular season, which begins Oct. 7, will be announced later this summer.

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Naturally, splitting up the divisions into a more travel-friendly format encourages geographic rivalries. The Adirondack-Albany/Flyers-Devils grouping screams out for rancor over however many games the league deems fit for inter-division play.

Just how the new St. John’s (Newfoundland and Labrador, alllll the way out on the Eastern tip of the continent — not to be confused with Saint John in New Brunswick) team will fare with all remaining Atlantic Division rivals way down in New England remains to be seen.

Sadly, this will mark the first time since the Phantoms were created for the 1996-97 season that they will not have the Hershey Bears in the same division. It will also be the first season the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will not be a divison rival since that club’s 1999-2000 inception.

The AHL had gone from a four-team to a six-team division format from 2001 — when the IHL dissolved — until 2004, when it switched back to four.