The Champions Hockey League held its annual draw in Tampere on Wednesday ahead of the 2023/24 season. While there has been a draw before every CHL season dating back to its 2014 relaunch and there have been some slight format changes over the years, this one was quite different from any that came before.
To begin with, the number of teams has been reduced from 32 to 24 and there are no longer any groups. The 24 teams include three from each of the six founding leagues (Swedish Hockey League, Finnish Liiga, Swiss National League, Czech Extraliga, German DEL and the Austrian-based international ICEHL) with an extra spot for Finland’s Tappara Tampere, the reigning European champion. There is also one team each from Denmark, France, Norway, Slovakia and the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League.
The only club that has qualified for the first time this season is HC Innsbruck from Austria.
“Going down from 32 to 24 teams will definitely increase the prestige,” said CHL CEO Martin Baumann. “Teams will really have to fight during the season to get that spot. I think the excitement will increase dramatically with that change.”
Prior to the draw, the 24 teams were divided into four pots of six, from which the grid was produced.
Based on their position in the grid, each team plays all teams in the columns to its left and right but not the ones in the same row. Teams on the left-hand side are played at home and teams on the right-hand side are played on the road. It should be noted that the grid wraps around so that teams on the far-left and far-right columns face each other.
Therefore, defending champion Tappara – now the only club that has qualified for nine consecutive CHL seasons and the only previous champion to qualify this season – will play at home against Skelleftea AIK, Adler Mannheim and the Belfast Giants, and away against EHC Biel-Bienne, the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers and the Aalborg Pirates.
Teams will all be ranked together according to points and, after each team has played six games in what is now called the regular season, the top 16 teams will qualify for the playoffs.
“Every point counted before, but now it will be even more and I think it will create more excitement,” said new CHL president Jorgen Lindgren. “You will play six different opponents so your fans will get to know more teams that they never heard about before.”
The draw was hosted by Canadian sportscaster Lindsay Hamilton, with pots being drawn by new Baumann, Lindgren, and legendary Finnish goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Niklas Backstrom. Assisting with the draw was CHL sport manager Fabri Holinger.
“With the new format, we’re focused on competitive balance, and with the overall standings we can reduce meaningless games,” said Holinger.
The 2023/24 CHL regular season will start on 31 August and conclude in October The 16 best teams qualify for the Playoffs where the one combined Regular Season ranking will determine their matchups (1st vs 16th, 2nd vs 15th etc.).
With 16 teams in the playoffs, just as in the past, four rounds are required to determine the new European club champion. The first three rounds are all two-game, home-and-away series with the winner determined on aggregate score. The playoffs start on 14 November and finish with a one-game CHL final on 20 February 2024.