The race is on! Clubs around Europe try to top their leagues, qualify for CHL
The leagues are in their stretch drives. Follow how the six CHL founding leagues are finishing up, as teams try to qualify for next season's Champions Hockey League.
As you read earlier, the Champions Hockey League's founding six leagues are guaranteed spots for 24 of the 32 teams that will compete in the 2017-18 season, and all of those spots have to be earned on the ice. In fact, one of them already has, with Frolunda Gothenburg winning the 2016-17 CHL Final.
The remaining eight positions will come from challenger leagues. One of them has already been claimed by the Nottingham Panthers, winners of the 2016-17 IIHF Continental Cup.
Although different numbers of teams will come from the six founding leagues, based on the CHL's criteria for ranking teams, the top two regular-season finishers from all six leagues will qualify. That means, once a team is assured at least a second-place finish in its league's regular season standings, it has earned a berth in next year's CHL.
With many of the league schedules approaching the finish line, some tight races are shaping up. Here are the various domestic situations, with some key games in the upcoming days highlighted. Keep in mind that even if a team does not finish among the top two teams in its league's regular season, it will still have a chance to qualify for the CHL in the playoffs.
Teams have 7 or 8 games left to play. Regular season finishes on 9 March.
Current top two: Vaxjo Lakers 90, Frolunda Gothenburg 85 (already qualified).
Within striking distance: HV71 Jonkoping 81, Linkoping HC 81, Skelleftea AIK 80.
Longshots: Brynas Gavle 77, Farjestad Karlstad 69, Malmo Redhawks 69.
For most if the season, Frolunda seemed destined to finish first overall, but now are in second and in danger of falling further. Fortunately for them, their CHL Final victory last week assured they will be in the competition next season, no matter what happens. CHL Semi-Finalists Vaxjo are looking good to re-qualify as well, with a bunch of teams familiar to CHL fans not far behind. There are still three weeks to go in the SHL regular season, so things can change.
Teams have beween 7 and 9 games left to play. Regular season finishes on 13 March.
Current top two: Tappara Tampere 110, TPS Turku 101.
Within striking distance: KalPa Kuopio 98.
Longshots: JYP Jyvaskyla 90, HPK Hameenlinna 89, Pelicans Lahti 82, Assat Pori 80.
As is the case in Sweden, the Finnish Liiga still has several more weeks left in its regular season, so a lot can still happen. Nonetheless, it looks like defending champions Tappara are in good shape to enter the playoffs as the top seed and re-qualify for the CHL. TPS and KalPa are in a tight race for second.
Teams have 4 or 5 games left to play. Regular season finishes on 3 March.
Current top two: Bili Tygri Liberec 99, Ocelari Trinec 90.
Within striking distance: Sparta Prague 84, Mountfield Hradec Kralove 84.
Longshots: HC Litvinov 82.
After beating Mountfield on Sunday, Bili Tygri are now on the verge of clinching a spot in next year's CHL, needing only one point from their last four games. They might clinch on Tuesday even though they don't play – if Sparta get less than the full three points from their game in hand against Olomouc. Trinec's spot is a little less secure, but got a bit better with Sunday's overtime win over Zlin.
Teams have between 2 and 4 games left to play. Regular season finishes on 25 February.
Current top two: SC Bern 101, ZSC Lions Zurich 94.
Within striking distance: EV Zug 93.
It's a three-horse race for the top two spots in the NLA, with Bern now very close to qualifying, but it's still very tight between Zurich and Zug for the second spot. Coming up on Tuesday, Bern host Zug, needing only a single point to clinch a spot in the CHL. On the same day, the ZSC Lions host Biel.
Teams have 2 or 3 games left to play. Regular season finishes on 26 February.
Current top two: Adler Mannheim 100, Red Bull Munich 99.
Within striking distance: Kolner Haie 97, Nuremberg Ice Tigers 95.
Mannheim, Munich, Nuremberg and Koln are all within five points at the top of the DEL standings, with each team having three games to play. On Sunday, Mannheim overtook Munich for top spot with a win over Wolfsburg, while Munich lost to Iserlohn. on Tuesday, Die Haie host the Grizzlys, and the Ice Tigers host the Roosters.
All teams have 1 game left to play. Regular season finishes on 21 February.
Current top two: Red Bull Salzburg 22, Vienna Capitals 22.
Within striking distance: Klagenfurter AC 20.
The EBEL's “Pick Round” – a 10-game double round-robin among the league's top six teams before the playoffs – means that the point totals are very close as we approach the end. Perennial powers Vienna and Salzburg are on top, but Klagenfurt remain in the hunt heading into the last round of games after beating Vienna on Sunday. In order to get into the top two, they'll have to win in Linz on Tuesday and hope either the Capitals or Red Bulls lose.