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ECHL to Play at 27 Teams in 2016-2017

ECHLWith Evansville/Owensboro on hiatus and Worcester not ready to enter the league, the ECHL will play with 27 teams in 2016-2017 — a year that will undoubted be considered by most insiders as a transitional one for the circuit.

The Evansville IceMen pulled the plug after negotiations for a new Ford Center lease came up short and announced a move to nearby Owensboro, Ky. for the 2017-2018 season. The team won’t play this season, as owners lay the groundwork for the Owensboro debut. (The Ford Center won’t be dark, however: a new team, the Evansville Thunderbolts, will play out of the Southern Professional Hockey League this coming season.) An investment group was awarded an expansion franchise for 2017-2018 for Worcester’s DCU Center after the defection of the AHL. And last week an investment group announced plans to buy an existing ECHL team and move it to Portland, Maine for the 2017-2018 season.

See the pattern? Everything is geared for a year from now.

Still, ECHL owners will have plenty to talk about in this week’s upcoming league meetings in Las Vegas. From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

“We lost a team. We don’t have Evansville,” Komets president Michael Franke said. “I don’t know how that is going to change everything, but obviously we’re going from 28 to 27 teams this season and I’m assuming there are going to be some changes.”

Some things that might at least be discussed include a change of playoff format to include reseeding, so the highest remaining seed always plays the lowest remaining seed; the use of a two-referee system that was utilized only in the playoffs last season; the possibility of video replay of officials’ on-ice calls; and rule changes to the number of veterans or rookies ECHL teams can have on their rosters.

The Komets, who have been in the ECHL since 2012, will be pushing for two changes in particular: increasing the number of reserve players from two to three and the addition of a third goaltender to rosters.

These are important issues, to be sure. But with so many changes slated for 2017-2018, what happens this week will probably pale by comparison.

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