The American Hockey League (AHL) announced new changes to the league’s divisions for the 2017-18 season on Thursday afternoon. Likewise, some of the league’s teams released their schedule breakdowns with how many times they will play their opponents next season with the league beginning regular season play on October 6th.
The division changes confirm what has already been widely reported throughout the spring. The league will remain at 30 teams, meaning the Vegas Golden Knights will not have their own AHL affiliate this upcoming season and will be splitting an affiliate with an existing club.
All three new AHL franchises for the 2017-18 season – Belleville Senators, Binghamton Devils and Laval Rocket – will play in the North Division of the Eastern Conference. The Charlotte Checkers move to the Eastern Conference from the West, joining the always challenging Atlantic Division.
For the first time in at least a decade, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears will be playing against a trio of Western Conference teams – Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Rockford. Unfortunately for Phantoms fans hoping to see some teams from the Western Conference grace the PPL Center next season, they’ll have to wait at least another year. Hopefully the inter-conference play will continue in future years with teams rotating the honors of playing new opponents in the opposing conference.
More news/notes about the AHL’s division alignment, the schedule and more after the jump.
**Charlotte Moves to the Eastern Conference**
The only major change to the AHL’s landscape came in the form of the Carolina Hurricanes’ minor league affiliate switching conferences. The Charlotte Checkers are back in the Eastern Conference for the 2017-18 season, having last been in the then-East Division during the 2010-11 season.
Here’s what David Andrews said about how Charlotte was a good possibility to move to the Eastern Conference during his [annual State of the Leauge Address](https://www.blogger.com/Recommend%20re-reading%20my%20transcribed%20AHL%20State%20of%20the%20League%20address%20to%20refresh%20yourself%20on%20a%20ton%20of%20relevant%20topics:%20http://highlandparkhockey.blogspot.com/2017/01/2017-ahl-state-of-league-address.html) during the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic weekend in Allentown back on July 30th:
> *We have to see how this expansion plays out. Charlotte is obviously, geographically, a candidate to come East. We are 16-14 right now, we don’t want to be 17-14. There’s a number of reasons why Charlotte might be a better fit in the East now that they are not in an NBA building. *
For those of you that don’t get that, we had Charlotte in the West primarily because they were in an NBA building. For scheduling purposes, we always scheduled the Western Conference last because we didn’t get the dates until later. Once they moved into the Bojangles Coliseum, that whole NBA issue went away. I think there’s a chance that Charlotte could be a team that comes to the East but we won’t make that determination final, in terms of Conference alignment until May.
The Phantoms did play Charlotte in a pair of exhibition games last season, but the last meeting between the two AHL franchises came back on March 22nd, 2011 when the Phantoms were in Glens Falls, New York playing as the then-Adirondack Phantoms.
**Who Will Lehigh Valley Play in 2017-18?**
While the AHL’s regular season schedule won’t be released until this summer, approximately 5-6 weeks sooner than last year’s schedule was released (on August 22nd) according to Andrews, the Phantoms opponents’ and how many times they will face said opponents are already confirmed for the most part. While Lehigh Valley hasn’t released a schedule matrix for the 2017-18 yet, other teams around the AHL have.
***EDIT: An AHL league source shared with Highland Park Hockey the schedule matrix for Lehigh Valley. Here’s a look at the full Phantoms schedule breakdown:***Atlantic Division = 58 games (29 home, 29 away)
Bridgeport = 8 games (4 home, 4 away)
Charlotte = 8 games (4 home, 4 away)
Hartford = 6 games (3 home, 3 away)
Hershey = 12 games (6 home, 6 away)
Providence = 6 games (3 home, 3 away)
Springfield = 6 games (3 home, 3 away)
W-B/Scranton = 12 games (6 home, 6 away)
North Division = 18 games (9 home, 9 away)
Belleville = 2 games (1 home, 1 away)
Binghamton = 6 games (3 home, 3 away)
Laval = 2 games (1 home, 1 away)
Rochester = 2 games (1 home, 1 away)
Syracuse = 2 games (1 home, 1 away)
Toronto = 2 games (1 home, 1 away)
Utica = 2 games (1 home, 1 away)Here’s what has been “officially” confirmed by other AHL teams right now (as of 3 p.m. ET on May 12th):
> The Phantoms will face Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 12 times each again, with six each at home and on the road against the Bears and Penguins.
Lehigh Valley will face the Charlotte Checkers eight times in 2017-18. Again, the home and road match ups are split in half – four at home and four on the road.
Binghamton Devils will play the Phantoms six times next season, three at home and three on the road.
The Phantoms will play against Rochester twice in 2017-18, once each at home and on the road. They’ll also see the Syracuse Crunch just twice next season.
That’s the opponent breakdown for 42 of the Phantoms’ 76 regular season games for 2017-18.
I’ll update the full schedule matrix for Lehigh Valley once it becomes available (see above if you missed it). For reference, here’s what the Phantoms’ opponent breakdown looked like this past season.
The Phantoms will play every team in the Eastern Conference next season, including the three new AHL franchises playing in the North Division – Binghamton Devils, Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket.
Below is the full list of the AHL’s divisional alignment for the 2017-18 season.
**EASTERN CONFERENCE***Atlantic Division*
Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders)
Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes)
Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers)
Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals)
Providence Bruins (Boston Bruins)
Springfield Thunderbirds (Florida Panthers)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh Penguins)*North Division*
Belleville Senators (Ottawa Senators)
Binghamton Devils (New Jersey Devils)
Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens)
Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres)
Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning)
Toronto Marlies (Toronto Maple Leafs)
Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks)**WESTERN CONFERENCE**
Chicago Wolves (St. Louis Blues)
Cleveland Monsters (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings)
Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild)
Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets)
Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators)
Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks)*Pacific Division*
Bakersfield Condors (Edmonton Oilers)
Ontario Reign (Los Angeles Kings)
San Antonio Rampage (Colorado Avalanche)
San Diego Gulls (Anaheim Ducks)
San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks)
Stockton Heat (Calgary Flames)
Texas Stars (Dallas Stars)
Tuscon Roadrunners (Arizona Coyotes)