Still no official announcement yet but some details are trickling out about the upcoming Asia League Ice Hockey season (from International Hockey Forums). *My thoughts in italics.
Per a top official from one the teams in the league, the following changes and schedules will apply the the 2008-09 Asia League season:
1) This season and next, the China Sharks will be allowed to have a total of seven import players. As for the Korean teams the limit will be four imports until 2011.
*Additionally, Sharks are supposed to have moved their team from Beijing to Shanghai. Hopefully they’ve found a permanent home now as they’ve been a rogue team changing hometowns every season (and consequently getting no local support or attendance, coupled with bad/lack of marketing probably). No word on the number of imports for Japanese teams, but they’ll probably remain the same with 2 per team, except for Nikko IceBucks who were allowed to ice 3-4 imports last season but were unable to afford them.
2) Pre-season: A Total of 5 teams will participate (Halla, High1, Sharks, Cranes, Oji)
*This is probably in reference to the preseason Anyang Cup which was held last season for the first time and AL wants to make it an annual tournament. Seoul’s Yonsei University also participated in the tournament last season and fared well (tying or playing a 1 goal game against an AL team last season). China Sharks replace SEIBU PrinceRabbits in the tournament this year, it seems.
3) Shootout: Starting this season, there will be a shootout after overtime if the game is still tied. Three players from each team will shoot. If nothing is decided, next goal would be a winning goal. If nothing is decided after the 7th shooter, the same player can take the shot until the winning goal is scored
With the introduction of the shootout, the regular-season point system also has been changed.
New Point Format: W (3 point) L (0) OTW (2) OTL(1) SOW (2) SOL (1)
Old point Format: W (3 point) L (0) OTW (2) OTL (1)
*Though they’re exciting, I saw nothing wrong with having ties during the regular season. I mean if the teams couldn’t decide on a winner through regulation and overtime, then a tie is well deserved. But then again eliminating ties makes all games worth 3 points, and I guess that’s fair, since the 3 point win wasn’t brought into the AL to encourage scoring (the games already feature lots of scoring, unlike when soccer introduced the 3 point win).
4) Playoff Format: Until last season, 6 teams out of 7 made the playoffs. Starting this season, five teams will make the playoffs. For the 1st Round, 4th vs 5th seeded team will play a best-of-three series. The 1st,2nd ,3rd seeded teams get a bye.
For the second round, 1st seeded team plays the mini-series winner, and the second and third seeded teams play each other. It will be a best-of-seven series format.
The finals, for the first time, will also be a best-of-seven series.
*I like this change. It makes getting into the playoffs more difficult in this small 7 team league. And there is still value in finishing in the top 3, especially 1st as they get a bye and get to play a series worn 4th or 5th seed. Wonder if the Bucks and the Sharks will have a fighting chance for the last playoff position.
5) There will be a total of 36 regular season games per club during the 2008-2009 regular season, up from 30 games last season.
*Great improvement! The league has been reducing the number of regular season games (probably for cost cutting reasons). But this had been really hurting the only truly professional club in the league, Nikko, because the Bucks rely on gate receipts as their primary income, whereas other teams are sponsored by corporations/government. Plus hopefully I’ll get to catch more games live with this change.
6) The pre-season starts Sept. 4th~7th for the clubs. The regular season runs Sept. 27 to Jan 25.
7) The playoffs will start on Feb 19, ending no later than March 24.