Atlantic City, N.J.
Barring any major surprises, St. John’s IceCaps CEO Danny Williams and True North Sports and Entertainment will soon sign off on a one-year extension on their existing three-year lease, and start negotiating for additional years keeping the American Hockey League team in St. John’s.
“It’s just a matter of both parties agreeing, and it just happens,” Williams said of the contract extension. “I would be inclined to think that it’s a given.”
True North owns the Winnipeg Jets, and the team’s farm club, the IceCaps.
When he was negotiating to bring the farm club to St. John’s, Williams said there was some pressure being applied in Thunder Bay, Ont., anxious to get into the pro game and considering construction of a new arena.
“Thunder Bay was a competitive threat a while ago, but there’s no activity there now and even if there was, I don’t see a rink being ready in time,” Williams said.
“I’m very optimistic that certainly we will be going into the fourth year, and after that we’ll consider where we go from there.
“But I don’t think Winnipeg wants to move anywhere else. And we’re very happy with the relationship.”
Williams, in Atlantic City for the annual AHL All-Star Classic, hasn’t denied that he would like to purchase an AHL team, but treads lightly when discussing the topic.
He has never discussed buying the team with True North head Mark Chipman.
“If Mark was ever ready to have us consider that, I think he would approach me,” Williams said.
“Glenn (Stanford, the IceCaps’ chief operating officer) and I have talked about whether we should get a franchise, but we have such a great arrangement here now,” he said.
“This is a good thing. If True North is ever interested in selling the team, we would be interested. But I don’t want to raise that debate, because I don’t want Winnipeg going, ‘Oh yeah, they’re doing great and now Williams wants to buy the team.’ That’s not what this is all about.”
The IceCaps are 27-11-5-1 at the all-star break, first in the Eastern Conference. In addition to the strong on-ice performance, St. John’s is tops in the AHL in building capacity — every game at Mile One has been sold out — and is a leader in sponsorship revenue.
“Even at meetings this morning,” Williams said, “(AHL president) Dave Andrews acknowledged myself and Glenn and said what an example St. John’s has been this season.”
Williams said Winnipeg has been supportive of St. John’s, and Chipman has indicated to Williams he is anxious to win a Calder Cup (before landing the NHL’s Jets, Chipman and True North had the AHL’s Manitoba Moose for 10 years).
“I kid Zinger (St. John’s GM Craig Heisinger) about getting some toughness on the team,” Williams said. “Zinger made the comment to Glenn, ‘Does Danny want toughness or does he want to win?’ Which is an interesting comment.
“It shows you where their thinking is.”