The ECHL announced their divisional alignments for the 2016-17 season today. As you have probably inferred from the title, the Admirals will now be moving to the South Division of the ECHL. The Eastern Division no longer exists, and there are now four divisions within the ECHL. They are North and South (in the East), and Central and Mountain (in the West). Like the NHL and AHL, the playoffs are now a divisional format. The four teams with the most points from each division qualify for the playoffs. It is unclear if there is a crossover rule in effect. If the fifth-place team from the North Division has more points than the fourth-place team in the South Division, it appears the North Division team has to stay home.
Norfolk is now division mates with South Carolina, Greenville, Atlanta, Orlando, Florida, and Cincinnati. Norfolk played all of these teams multiple times last year, and moving into the division isn’t too much of a strain. What does factor in to the equation is the schedule has already been completed. Reading will be Norfolk’s most common opponent, as the Royals are the closest team to the Admirals. They’re a North division team, and the Ads play those squads plenty. The bulk of the North Division teams comprise the bulk of last year’s East Division with Adirondack, Elmira, Manchester, and aforementioned Reading. Thus, the Admirals will be playing an East Division schedule in the South Division.
Cincinnati’s inclusion is the oddest part of the realignment. One might have thought Wheeling, with its history against Norfolk, would be part of the South Division. Instead, they are part of the North. Cincinnati is in southern Ohio, but the Cyclones’ inclusion in the division doesn’t make much geographic sense. Doing so in the NHL-like Florida and Tampa Bay in the mostly northern Atlantic Division-is feasible because the teams fly from location to location. Eastern teams in the ECHL bus it more often than not. Cincinnati’s schedule still reads like a Western Conference team, with their most frequent opponents being Quad City and Fort Wayne. Norfolk and Cincinnati do not play each other.
Norfolk goes into the next season in a new division, but playing in an old one.