/,p>The American Hockey League has been developing future NHL talents for decades and now it is going to look a lot more like the top League in the world.
David Andrews, the president and CEO of the AHL, announced Tuesday the league's realignment and alterations to the playoff structure after an annual meeting of the Board of Governors. The AHL will have six divisions of five teams for the 2011-12 season.
The league's newest franchise, St. John's, will be part of the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division, along with Manchester, Portland, Providence and Worcester. The New York Rangers' affiliate's first full season as the Connecticut Whale will play in the Northeast Division along with Adirondack, Albany, Bridgeport and Springfield. The East Division will include Binghamton, Hershey, Norfolk, Syracuse and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Charlotte moves from the Eastern Conference to the West to make room for St. John's. The Checkers will play in the Midwest Division with Chicago, Milwaukee, Peoria and Rockford. Abbotsford loses a relatively close travel partner with Manitoba moving to St. John's, and the Heat are part of the West Division that includes Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Texas. The North Division keeps five members from last season -- Grand Rapids, Hamilton, Lake Erie, Rochester and Toronto.
There will also be a new format for the Calder Cup Playoffs. The top eight teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason, with the division winners earning the top three seeds.
The conference quarterfinals will be a best-of-five series, with the final three rounds staying at the normal best-of-seven format. Teams will also be re-seeded after the opening round like they are in the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs.