During the American Hockey League's spring meetings this week, the various members of the Board of Governors agreed upon a new alignment for the league for next season.
It was a necessary evil, with six teams (20% of the league) beginning operations in new homes, to better align with the locations of the teams' NHL parent clubs. Many teams managed to survive the shuffle without many differences, but the Toronto Marlies weren't one of them.
A New Conference
For the first time in their eleven year history, the Marlies will play in the Eastern Conference. This seems weird to fans who are used to the Leafs playing in the East, but the league has been historically filled by teams in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania.
In fact, Leafs fans will remember a time where Toronto was actually in the western-most half of the NHL, and spent years in the present-day distant conference before making their jump in 1999.
What really makes this interesting is that it gives the team a whole new cast of opponents. Unlike the NHL, where the schedule is designed so you face every team at least once, the AHL has very little out-of-conference play to save on travel costs.
When the Marlies took on the Norfolk Admirals in the 2012 Calder Cup Finals, for example, it was the first time they had ever seen each other.
As such, teams like Bridgeport, Hartford, Portland, Providence, Springfield, Albany, and Syracuse, who haven't made many appearances at Ricoh Coliseum, will now regularly take on the blue and white. This also gives the Marlies the opportunity to be one of the few teams to be Eastern and Western Conference champions since the two conferences were created and the league began with a full four-round playoff in 1997/98.
The feat has also been accomplished by Wilkes Barre/Scranton (West '01, East '04 and 07, all finals losses), and the now-defunct Hamilton (East '03, West and Calder Cup Champions '07) and Philadelphia (West '98 and East '05, the only team to win the Calder Cup representing both conferences).
A New Division
As such, the Marlies will now play in the North Division, rather than, the, uh, North Division. Yeah, some of the names have shifted around, but many of their opponents have changed too.
Toronto keeps previous division rivals Utica (Vancouver) and Rochester (Buffalo), but gain Albany (New Jersey), Binghamton (Ottawa), and Syracuse (Tampa Bay). This means that many of the division rivals from here will carry over to the league above, making it a little easier to create natural disdain between clubs.
A Super Rival
I conveniently forgot to mention one team, a team that will surely become the primary rival of this team. Of course, I'm referring to the St. John's IceCaps.
Ever since the team returned to Newfoundland, the league has pushed the New St. John's team faces the old St. John's team matchup. It helps that the Leafs organization makes enough money to volunteer themselves to make the flights , and as such, they've faced St. John's more than any out-of-conference team typically would.
There is a slight issue, in the sense that the IceCaps players have moved to Winnipeg to play with the Manitoba Moose. The thing that makes this so much better, however, is that they've been replaced by the remains of the Hamilton Bulldogs. The rivalry-by-force has been injected with an actual rivalry, and placed in the division.
Needless to say, the Marlies are going to need a lot more plane tickets.. and possibly a new "know your enemy" book.