Inverted Pyramids, Crossovers and PPI: A Primer for the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs

By Craig Elsten

It’s just about that time of year: the weather is warming across the country, winter is fading into spring and hockey fans are starting to get anxious. It’s the time when a daily check of the scores comes alongside an examination of the standings. It’s almost playoff time.

With the American Hockey League coming to San Diego for the first time, we are about to get our first taste of the pursuit of the Calder Cup in America’s Finest City. The AHL’s migration to the Golden State, however, has delivered a plot twist with ramifications from coast to coast. With an uneven schedule, segregated conference play and a brand new playoff format to handle it all, every AHL host city is taking a fresh look at what it takes to qualify for the playoffs and how to navigate the path to a championship.

As such, let’s lay it all out for you in black and white. Here’s what you need to know about the Calder Cup playoffs, and what it will take for the San Diego Gulls to punch their ticket to the tournament.


Named after Frank Calder, the original president of the National Hockey League from 1917 to 1943, the Calder Cup is the perpetual trophy awarded to the annual champions of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Calder Cup trophy itself was first awarded in 1938 to the Providence Reds, for winning the second International-American Hockey League championship. A total of 31 cities have won a Calder Cup title, the latest being Manchester, New Hampshire in 2015. The Hershey Bears have won the most cups with 11, the latest in 2010.


Sixteen of the 30 AHL teams will qualify for the Calder Cup playoffs at the conclusion of the 2015-16 regular season. With an important exception that we will explain further below, the playoffs are designed as a divisional breakout in the first two rounds, reducing travel impact across the league.

The top four teams in each division qualify (again, with a key exception we’ll address in a moment) for their divisional playoff bracket. The division champion and #1 seed will host the #4 team in a five-game opening round playoff series, with the #2 and #3 teams meeting in a five-game series as well. The winners will meet in a second round seven-game series, with the higher-ranked seed holding home-ice advantage.

A seven-game conference championship round, and a seven-game Calder Cup championship will follow to determine the league champion.


Each AHL conference consists of 15 teams in two divisions. The disparate number of teams per division has led to an opportunity in each conference for a team in the more highly populated eight-team division to “cross over” and take a playoff spot away from a team within a seven-team division.

In the AHL Central Division of the Western Conference, and the AHL Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, the fifth place team has a chance to take the fourth playoff spot in the AHL Pacific and AHL North Divisions, respectively. If the fifth place team in the Central has a higher points percentage than the fourth place team in the Pacific, the Central team “crosses over” and joins the Pacific playoff bracket as the fourth place team. The same is true for the fifth place team in the Atlantic and the fourth place team in the North.

Ah, yes…points percentage. Let’s get there.


Points percentage is a simple calculation: a team’s total points divided by the maximum number of points available to them. If a team has played 20 games, they have 40 maximum points available to them; if they have collected 20 points in those 20 games, they would have a points percentage of (20 divided by 40=) .500.

The reason for using points percentage to determine the standings is more complex: when five AHL teams migrated to California to create the AHL Pacific Division (joining Texas teams San Antonio and Texas), they did so agreeing to play a shortened schedule of 68 games. The other 25 AHL teams remained on a 76-game schedule.

As such, with 16 fewer points available to the five California teams, using points to determine the standings was no longer possible. Points percentage was the decided upon even-ground upon which AHL teams could be compared.


Points Percentage Impact (or PPI) is the amount a team’s point percentage can change with an individual game result. On the season’s opening night, a team will either have 2-of-2 points captured (1.000%), 1-of-2 (.500%) or 0-of-2 (0%). As such, the total impact of that very first game (the PPI) is 1.000. Each game adds more available points to the right side of the equation, forcing teams to keep up or see their point percentage decrease. Simultaneously, the individual impact of each game on a team’s overall point percentage decreases game by game, from 1.000 in Game 1 all the way down to .015 for Game 68 (and .013 for Game 76).

The result is an inverted pyramid of sorts, where each successive game is worth slightly less to a team’s hopes of building their point percentage than the one before.


Following are the tiebreaking procedures used in the event of a tie in points percentage in the standings, regardless of division, following the completion of the regular season. When a tie among three or more teams is broken resulting in a two-team tie, the original tiebreaking method is used.

Between two teams:
a) percentage of games won (excluding shootout wins)
b) points in season series between teams
c) goal differential
d) goals scored in season series between teams
e) intra-conference points percentage

Among three or more teams:
a) percentage of games won (excluding shootout wins)
b) points percentage in combined season series
c) goal differential
d) goal differential in combined season series
e) intra-conference points percentage


You will want to keep yourself apprised of two key factors as the AHL regular season winds down:

  1. Who are the top four teams in the AHL Pacific Division?
  2. Is the fifth-place team in the AHL Central Division ahead of or behind the fourth-place team in the Pacific for the crossover rule?

With these two factors in mind, here’s something else to watch: as much Gulls hockey as is physically possible! You’re not going to want to miss a minute of the chase for the Calder Cup.



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