The ECHL board of governors restructured the Kelly Cup playoff format at their annual summer meeting, awarding seven berths to the eight-team National Conference. Under the old format, which awarded playoff berths to the top four teams in the Pacific and West divisions, every team in the conference (including the Reign) would have advanced. The Phoenix Roadrunners ceased operations at the end of last season.
Under the new format, the first-place team in each division will be awarded a playoff berth, followed by the next five teams in the conference standings. Only the worst team in the conference will miss the playoffs entirely. The division winner with the best record will receive a first-round bye, while the other division winner will play the conference’s No. 7 seed in the first round. The third and sixth seeds, and the fourth and fifth seeds, will meet in the other first-round series.
The Board also voted to reduce all first-round playoff series from seven games to five, featuring a 2-3 format (home-home-road-road-road). The higher-seeded teams have the choice of starting or ending the series at home, and if the teams are less than 350 miles apart they can choose a 2-2-1 format. The Reign only play within 350 miles of the Bakersfield Condors and Las Vegas Wranglers.
In the second round, the No 1 seed will play the winner of the 4-5 series, while the winner of the 2-7 series will play the winner of the 3-6 series.
In other major announcements:
• The Board unanimously approved the realignment of the American Conference into three divisions: East (Elmira Jackals, Johnstown Chiefs, Reading Royals and Trenton Devils), North (Cincinnati Cyclones, Kalamazoo Wings, Toledo Walleye and Wheeling Nailers) and South (Charlotte Checkers, Florida Everblades, Gwinnett Gladiators and South Carolina Stingrays).
• The Board unanimously approved a revision to the expansion policy and voted to limit the number of Memberships to 24 with a priority on adding teams in the south and west. The ECHL will play with 20 teams in 2009-10 and has inactive Memberships in Columbia, South Carolina and Reno, Nevada.
• The Board voted to form a committee to examine the overall scheduling process. The committee will report to the Board at its preseason meeting in September regarding the timing and release of the schedule in coming seasons as well as the criteria to be used in creating the schedule.
• The ECHL announced that the memberships for Dayton, Mississippi, Myrtle Beach and Phoenix were relinquished by the respective ownership groups, who had advised the Board in January that they would not compete in 2009-10.
Update (5 p.m.): I just got off the phone with Justin Kemp, the Reign’s executive VP of business operations, who represented the team at the meeting. Here’s some of what he had to say; more details in tomorrow’s editions…
On the new format:
We were very headstrong about wanting to make sure not every team made the playoffs. It’s tough when you have only 8 teams in the playoffs. You’re thinking about 4 out of 8 or 8 of 8. Some people were pushing for 8 out of 8 primarily for financial purposes. For most teams (the playoffs) are profitable. We’re in tough times and trying to make teams as financially stable as possible. There’s also a responsibility to preserving the integrity of the game for the fans of a 72-game regular season schedule. I think this was a fair compromise. I’m in favor of the first-round bye for the top seed. Some people looked at that as a disadvantage, having that extra week to sell for the playoffs.
On the top seed getting extra time off in the first round:
There were two things that went into that. (Giving the team more time to sell tickets) was one reason. The other reason was to make sure we were finishing about the same time the American Conference was as well. I think they were actually in favor, in the East, of trying to shorten the postseason. At one point we were in favor of doing the first two rounds best-of-5. We don’t play Eastern teams until the finals, so it is like having two different leagues trying to decide on things. The economics are far different from what they have out east, especially as far as travel is concerned.
Conversely, the team that is going to be sitting out having time to sell, and players getting to rest, is still incurring costs without bringing in revenue — still housing players, etc. It’s an appropriate action to take to not penalize that team too much for finishing first.
On why teams won’t be re-seeded after the first round:
That wasn’t a big topic of discussion. We’re not going to do that. That wasn’t discussed at all. At one point, I was in favor of having six teams (make the playoffs) — go with the top two division leaders with first round-byes. That wasn’t about to get passed, when some people were arguing that all eight teams were going to make it. This was a fair compromise. It gives teams a good chance to be profitable.
On the disparity of having 12 teams in one conference and 8 in the other:
It’s noticable, especially in something like this, where for instance we had at one point four of us in the west that wanted (the playoff format) one way and four that wanted the other. As things get voted on it’s almost always unanimous. You kinda go along with where the majority lies. When we have an issue clearly divided East/West, that’s when we have the bulk of our discussion. They don’t live what we’re going through every day just like we don’t live what they’re going through every day. They have concerns about playing later in the season, just like we have concerns affected by travel. Out west, we’ll have 6, 7, 8 flights a season.
The hockey purist will look at this and say there’s a disadvantage, or players will say they have a better percentage of making the playoffs on the west coast, but I really don’t think it matters. South Carolina won it last year, teams from the west won (in 2006 and 2007). It all ends up being fairly balanced. If it got to an issue where we’re playing each other in the regular season, it might be a bigger factor. We don’t have any interleague play, but it’s kinda like old-school baseball: two separate leagues who agree to play each other in the championship. We’d like to have a couple more teams out west. We’ve put some things in place to go after strong markets and ownership groups. We need some tems out west.”
On possible teams in Reno, Fresno and San Diego:
The Reno membership goes back to the WCHL days. They’ve been trying to put an arena there for more than a decade now. How come this keeps dragging on and on? Out west, we need more teams to compete with. We’ll continue to approve them (for membership). I hope they continue to get that going. If we even had one more team out west, competitive issues would be nonexistent. There’s three midwest teams in Kalamazoo, Toledo and Cincinnati. What if they were to come out west? Those teams wouldn’t be in favor of it. Their travel is all by bus. That’s when it’s tough to sometimes get everybody.
I haven’t heard any talk about (Fresno), at least not in this league. I don’t know that anybody would have the appetite for that, given what happened there recently. It’s a pretty depressed market. Some other leagues like the USHL, which is a fantastic juinor league, there’s been some rumblings about them having some presence out West. Their franchise values are pretty high and they don’t allow much in the way of expansion. I don’t see a pro team going in there.
San Diego is a proven strong market, although AEG has a building down there but doesn’t have much interest in having an ECHL tenant. Whether they’re waiting to see if the American League ends up coming out West, maybe that’s an option for them. The league would be interested but the building isn’t. We’d be in huge favor of having a team in San Diego again. A couple ownership groups have had interest. I wouldn’t say it’s never going to happen. It just doesn’t look like it in the next year or so.