The ECHL has realigned for the 2016-2017 season. Instead of six divisions of four or five teams each, the league has condensed to four divisions with six or seven teams each, and a playoff system that resembles the NHL and AHL. (The old playoff system was based on conference-wide points and seeding rather than division-wide.) This realignment was implemented so that the ECHL could have cheaper, geographically closer playoffs.
This season's regular season games have already been scheduled against each team's rivals from the previous alignment, but this will change in 2017-2018. This season, there is the potential for teams in a new division to sneak into a better playoff spot, since their rivals will be playing four-point games to rise and fall in divisional standings without them.
The Solar Bears are impacted by the addition of two teams in the South division, the Norfolk Admirals (affiliated with the Bakersfield Condors and Edmonton Oilers) and the Cincinnati Cyclones (affiliated with the Milwaukee Admirals and Nashville Predators). The Bears are currently scheduled to play the Admirals three times in a row when Norfolk travels to Orlando, considerably fewer times than the Bears play other teams in their division. The Bears' closest in-state rival is the Florida Everblades, whom they play a total of fourteen times.
The Bears will not play the Cyclones unless they meet in the playoffs.
First- and second-round playoff series will now be between teams from the same division, which might put far-flung teams such as the Alaska Aces at a disadvantage, but which will hopefully reduce overall league travel costs. Teams will also be pooling travel money, meaning that teams with a shorter postseason travel distance will contribute travel money to teams that need to travel farther.
If this playoff system had been implemented last season, the Solar Bears would have been in a playoff slot, playing first-in-division Florida Everblades. Does this mean that the Solar Bears have a better chance after the realignment, given the strength of the rest of the South Division? Hope so.
|Eastern Conference, North Division||Brampton Beast, Kalamazoo Wings, Toledo Walleye, Wheeling Nailers|
|Eastern Conference, East Division||Adirondack, Elmira Jackals, Manchester, Norfolk, Reading Royals|
|Eastern Conference, South Division||Florida Everblades, Greenville Road Warriors, Gwinnett Gladiators, Orlando Solar Bears, South Carolina Stingrays|
|Western Conference, Midwest Division||Cincinnati Cyclones, Evansville IceMen, Fort Wayne Komets, Indy Fuel, Quad City Mallards|
|Western Conference, Central Division||Allen Americans, Missouri Mavericks, Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder|
|Western Conference, West Division||Alaska Aces, Colorado Eagles, Idaho Steelheads, Rapid City Rush, Utah Grizzlies|
|Playoff format||Division winners are seeded 1, 2, and 3, and the next five highest in points total per conference qualify for playoffs.|
|Eastern Conference, North Division||Adirondack Thunder, Brampton Beast, Elmira Jackals, Manchester Monarchs, Reading Royals, Wheeling Nailers|
|Eastern Conference, South Division||Atlanta Gladiators, Cincinnati Cyclones, Florida Everblades, Greenville Swamp Rabbits, Norfolk Admirals, Orlando Solar Bears, South Carolina Stingrays|
|Western Conference, Central Division||Fort Wayne Komets, Indy Fuel, Kalamazoo Wings, Quad City Mallards, Toledo Walleye, Tulsa Oilers, Wichita Thunder|
|Western Conference, Mountain Division||Alaska Aces, Allen Americans, Colorado Eagles, Idaho Steelheads, Missouri Mavericks, Rapid City Rush, Utah Grizzlies|
|Playoff format||Division winner plays fourth in division, second and third face off. Divisional playoff winners play for conference championship.|