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Understanding the AHL's playoff qualification format, and what it means for the St. John's IceCaps

The Montreal Canadiens' farm team hopes to return to the post-season for the first time in five years.

St. John's IceCaps / Colin Peddle

With hope all but gone for the Montreal Canadiens to appear in the playoffs come mid-April, there can at least be some excitement in seeing the St. John's IceCaps challenging for a playoff spot in the final games of the American Hockey League season.

Prior to analyzing the IceCaps chances of making the post-season, an explanation of the AHL playoff format is warranted, as it is more convoluted than the NHL system:

  • The AHL is divided into two conferences: Eastern and Western.
  • Each conference is then divided into two divisions: Atlantic and North in the Eastern Conference, Central and Pacific in the Western Conference.
  • The Atlantic and Central Divisions contains eight teams, the North and Pacific Divisions have seven teams.
  • The top four teams of each eight-team division qualify for the playoffs.
  • The top three teams in the two seven-team divisions qualify for the playoffs.
  • If the fifth-ranked team in a conference's eight-team division ranks higher than the fourth-ranked team in the seven-team division, then the the fifth seed crosses over to take the final wildcard spot. Otherwise the fourth-ranked team in the seven-team division advanced.

The IceCaps play in the seven-team North Division, and therefore need to finish the season either among the top three spots of their own grouping for an automatic berth, or as the fourth-best team in the North and ahead of the fifth-place team in the Atlantic to claim the wildcard.

The ranking system also needs some explanation, as it's not based on total points like the NHL, but rather points percentage: points earned divided by total points available. A mathematical example can be expressed as follows: a team has played 60 games, and in theory could have earned 120 points, but in fact only has 75, so their points percentage is 75/120 = 0.625.

This type of ranking system is necessary to counter the difference in total games played by teams. Most teams play 76 games, but clubs in the Pacific Division only have a 68-game schedule to accommodate the much higher travel mileage these players undergo.

The IceCaps currently sit in fifth place in the North Division, neck-and-neck with the Rochester Americans. Both teams are below the fifth-place Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the Atlantic Division. As of now, the IceCaps are on the outside looking in for playoff participation, but the team has strung together several wins lately, which is encouraging for their chances.

Here are the current standings in the quest for the final playoff spot in the East:

1 Bridgeport Sound Tigers 59 31 22 3 3 68 0.576 17
2 Rochester Americans 57 28 26 2 1 59 0.518 19
3 St. John's IceCaps 59 25 23 8 3 61 0.517 17

Bridgeport only has seven home games remaining, while Rochester and St. John's both have the majority of their remaining games at home.

St. John's is in the midst of a critical six-game homestand, and has earned three out of four available points so far. They play the East's worse team, the Binghamton Senators, tonight and tomorrow, followed by two games against the powerful Hershey Bears on the weekend. (You can read our previews of those upcoming games here.)

These upcoming four games can very much dictate the IceCaps playoff future.