The St. John’s IceCaps saw the puck drop on a new season last night, and while I have no concrete evidence or inside info to support such a theory, it would not be a shocker to suggest the IceCaps have but one more American Hockey League season-opener remaining as the farm club of the Winnipeg Jets.
Counting this season, the Jets and IceCaps have two years left on the current lease agreement, one which provides Winnipeg a home for its AHL operation.
It’s a deal from which the foundation was fashioned in May of 2011, when future IceCaps president and CEO Danny Williams and chief operating officer Glenn Stanford successfully convinced Winnipeg that Newfoundland was best-suited to support the NHL’s newest team, after the group called True North Sports and Entertainment purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and readied it for relocation to Manitoba.
After Year 1, when the IceCaps loyally drew sellout crowds and routinely offered $15,000 or more to the winner of 50-50 draws, not to mention the team on the ice going all the way to the Eastern Conference final, St. John’s was given a one-year extension to the existing contract, meaning another three years beginning last season.
Maybe it’s because the IceCaps slumped all the way to 14th in the East in 2012-13, or perhaps True North had other things on its mind — like putting together a playoff team — or maybe, doggone it, they just weren’t in the mood, but there was no extension tabled last May or June when Williams and Stanford ventured to Winnipeg for year-end meetings.
And wasn’t it at the 2012 AHL All-Star Classic in Atlantic City that Mark Chipman, the man who heads True North, told me: “I don’t see why we wouldn’t go beyond the three years. It’s early, and we’re both just getting going, but everything is going very well. I don’t know why we wouldn’t extend. I really don’t,” he said, before noting True North, “lives on five-year agreements.”
Maybe the dynamics have changed since then. Maybe True North’s had a change of heart. Maybe Winnipeg is keeping an eye to Thunder Bay, eight hours away by car, still looking at a 6,000 rink, albeit one that’s years away — if ever — from making ice. Maybe it’s the fact the Jets are now in the NHL’s Western Conference, playing three-quarters of their games in the Central time and west, which matters more with regards to its farm club on the far east coast.
And maybe I’m putting two and two together and coming up with five.
But why, then, the Jets’ assistant general manager Craig Heisinger’s rather brusque reaction when questioned about the contract last week, when the IceCaps’ GM answered with five different “No comment” replies to queries about the contract, before offering, “It’s none of your business.”
What’s that you hear, apart from those few words?
It’s the silence, speaking volumes.
Williams admits that under the current deal, there are two years remaining, and no extension has been granted. As a result, he said, the organization cannot look beyond that two-year window in terms of long-term planning or other projects.
“We’ll know this year where we are on a go-forward basis,” he said this week. “If there is no extension, we’ll go back to the league to look for a franchise.”
Easier said than done.
But all is not doom and gloom, at least not yet.
St. John’s has proven to be a model franchise, a significant revenue-generator for the AHL, one which will hit a pair of sellout streaks in the next couple of years, one which will play host to the league’s All-Star Classic in January.
“We would have no trouble attracting a team,” he said.
That may be confidence or wishful thinking. Or it may be Williams, whose modus operandi has traditionally been to have his play book drawn up years in advance, knowing something the rest of us do not.
Not that he admits as much.
In fact, Williams lauds the relationship between Winnipeg and St. John’s, making it loud and clear it’s one he wishes will continue.
“We want to dance with the person who brought us there,” he says of the Jets and True North.
Fine and dandy, but are the Jets interested in the last waltz, too?
No surprise the George Parros injury this week reopened the whole fighting-in-hockey can of worms.
It usually takes an injury — or worse, in the case of Ontario senior player Don Sanderson, who died in 2009 when his head struck the ice during a fight — to spark the age-old debate.
But save your breath, folks. It’s not happening. At least not for a while.
Regrettably, we live in a violent society now, one which cheers gladiator-like clashes rather than admonish them. Where people are kicking the crap out of each other on city streets with more and more frequency, although that tends to happen late at night or early in the morning.
It’s why the Ultimate Fighting Championship — the infamous UFC — continues to be insanely popular, with its UFC 125 or UFC 284, or whatever number they’re up to these days.
And the NHL knows this.
Not to suggest the league would like to see its players grapple and elbow each other in the chops. The NHL is doing a good job curbing fighting, but definitely not taking the next step in banning it altogether.
And the reason is simple — there are far, far too many people out there who want it.
Congratulations to Michelle Healey, who is the new director of the recreation and sport division within government’s Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. Maybe the former Memorial University athletic director, who is finishing up her position now, will convince the powers to be at Confederation Building that this province still needs more facilities, that athletes need more funding for travel and competition ... One thing I want to do before I get too old? I want to appear on “Mantracker” ... No odds to me, but I really want John Albert to play a full season this year for the IceCaps ... I’m not confident, but I really hope the Mount Pearl H.J. Bartlett Blades senior hockey team is a success at the Glacier turnstile this season. Harry Bartlett is a good guy, who’s put a lot back into Mount Pearl sports for as long as I can remember ... Did we mention before that Calgary Flames rookie Sean Monahan’s grandparents were from St. John’s? ... Hear some of those involved with Newfoundland senior hockey teams try to dictate to Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador how senior hockey should be run. My answer to that? Out you go. You either play by my rules, or you don’t play in my league. Nothing wrong with a little dictatorship when it comes to running sports leagues. I guarantee you my dear late friend, Don Johnson, didn’t take any guff when he was running hockey ...
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort