|(Credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
The American Hockey League announced today that all teams will play 72 games starting in the 2022-23 season and, to start meeting that goal, the league will allow teams the choice to flex down to 72 games this coming season. Texas is one of the teams taking that option.
When the Stars joined the AHL, all teams played 80 games. Shortly thereafter in 2011, the entire league dropped to 76. In 2015 when the AHL expanded West, those teams were allowed to play a shorter 68 game schedule to allow for more practice days. As the league has continued to grow the Pacific division, all of those teams have played 68 games. Today's move is a final push to make all teams play on an equal field of 72 games.
The twelve teams taking the option to play 72 games in 2021-22 include Belleville, Bridgeport, Charlotte, Hartford, Iowa, Laval, Manitoba, Providence, Rockford, Texas, Toronto, and Utica.
Texas will play in the Central Division again in 2021-22, which will include the Chicago Wolves (Carolina Hurricanes), Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings), Iowa Wild (Minnesota Wild), Manitoba Moose (Winnipeg Jets), Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) and Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks).
Finally, the league announced that "there will be an increase in the number of teams qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs each year; details will be finalized and announced later in the offseason." Currently, the top four teams in each division qualify for the playoffs. The AHL has often tracked very closely to the NHL's setup for playoff qualification, previously using a top-8 method with division winners seeded 1-2-3 before switching to divisions around the same time as the NHL. There is no indication what this future format could be, but any inclusion of a wild-card team wouldn't be surprising given the NHL's current usage of the strategy.