Falcons Schedule: Now THAT'S What I Call Unbalanced!

The Springfield Falcons have been making an excellent effort to maintain fan interest in the team throughout the summer. Continued use of social media, as well as the weekly "webisode" have been methods to keep fans involved in the team during the warm summer months. Along with some exciting free agent signings by the Columbus Blue Jackets, for us diehards the anticipation for the start of the season is fairly overwhelming.

Falcons Manager of Media Relations/Internet Services, Damon Markewicz, has also issued several media releases to keep everybody informed of current events with the team. Last Thursday, he issued a media release regarding the schedule format for the upcoming season, and quite frankly, it left me a little puzzled.

On July 6th, I took a look at what the schedule could look like after the divisional realignment of the AHL for the 2011-2012 season. Things didn't quite work out the way that I thought they might. In fact, after digesting the format for the whole weekend, I'm not especially sure why the league has divisions at all.

In this post, I'm only going to be talking about the Eastern Conference of the "A". That's because once again, there are no games with Western Conference opponents scheduled. That's right...zero. That didn't come as a big surprise to me. Where the surprises come are in the number of games in and out of the Northeast Division. From the media release:

"Springfield will play a total of 28 of their 76 regular season games within the Northeast Division. Springfield will play Connecticut 12 times (six home and six away), Bridgeport eight times (four home and four away), and the Falcons will meet both Albany and Adirondack four times each (two home and two away)."

Yes, I'm "old school". I remember John Zeigler's NHL realignment into Divisions I, II, III, IV. I remember his balanced schedule where everybody played everybody else, regardless of division, an equal number of times. This imbalance within a division however is really remarkable. The AHL announced that they are changing the playoff structure to something similar to the NHL, in that the top 8 teams in the conference advance, while still seeding division winners at the top three.

So, how is it right that a team plays one within its division 12 times, while two others only four apiece?

But wait, there's more:

The Falcons will also play a total of 36 contests against teams in the Atlantic Division and 12 games against clubs from the East Division giving Springfield a total of 76 Eastern Conference matches for the 2011-12 campaign.

Springfield will play the Providence Bruins (BOS) 10 times (five home and five away), while also going up against the Portland Pirates (PHX) and Worcester Sharks (SJ) eight times (four home and four away). The Falcons will face the Manchester Monarchs (LA) six times (three home and three away), while also meeting up with St. John's (WPG) four times (two home and two away).

OK, so Springfield will mix it up with Atlantic Division rivals at least as much as with two teams in their own division. Further, if we take St. John's out of the mix, the Falcons play the remaining four clubs 32 times, four more games than within their own division.
The remainder of the schedule looks like this:

In the East Division, the Falcons will take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT) and Norfolk Admirals (TB) four times each, while also going head to head with the Hershey Bears (WSH) and Syracuse Crunch (ANA) twice (one home and one away). The only Eastern Conference team the Falcons will not play is the Binghamton Senators (OTT).

So after all that, the defending Calder Cup champions are totally out of the picture? That really is an unbalanced schedule!

I've said before that much of what happens in the "A" is economically driven. Bruce Landon has said frequently that he'd like to keep as many dates with Providence, Worcester and Connecticut as possible on the schedule as the Falcons typically draw well against those teams.

Also, with St. John's late arrival in the league and the subsequent realignment, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the league had already had a rough draft of a schedule based on the old four division setup, and made some modifications to it when the Manitoba Moose came east. The Falcons former divisional rivals (Providence, Worcester, Portland, Manchester, Connecticut and Bridgeport) seem to dominate the schedule again, even in the new alignment of teams.

Whether the schedule used a 2010-2011 template or not, the schedule would still seem to be somewhat in the Falcons favor. Based on last season, the new and improved Falcons could stand to benefit from the repetition of familiarity.

It's conceivable that the season could look like this (using the same crystal ball with which the AHL divines a schedule):

Falcons vs. Northeast (wins-losses, by opponent):
vs. Connecticut 7-5
vs. Bridgeport 5-3
vs. Albany 3-1
vs. Adirondack 2-2
Totals:  17-11
Falcons vs. Atlantic:
vs. Providence 7-3
vs. Portland 6-2
vs. Manchester 3-3
vs. Worcester 5-3
vs. St. John's 3-1
Totals: 24-12
Falcons vs. East
vs. Wilkes Barre 2-2
vs. Norfolk 3-1
vs. Hershey 1-1
vs. Syracuse 1-1
Totals: 7-5
Grand Total: 48-28, 96 points.
After the last eight seasons, I don't think anybody in Springfield would complain about a 96 point season.

Method the AHL uses in determining a schedule?

Darts at a Dartboard, blindfolded20
Ouija Board4
Tarot Cards3
The Amazing Kreskin, while he explains North American geography11

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