Danny Williams has been working “very hard” on getting an American Hockey League team for St. John’s, and acknowledges the city is “very close” to landing the Manitoba Moose, but cautions there are no deals in place.
However, The Telegram, as reported Saturday (click here for Saturday's story), has learned an agreement involving the transfer of the Moose to St. John’s for the 2011-12 AHL season is done, but won’t be announced until the imminent NHL transfer of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg is complete.
Initial reports last week indicated a news conference is planned for today in Winnipeg. That time frame is now unlikely, meaning a more likely scenario for an announcement on the sale of the Thrashers to True North Sports and Entertainment will be Wednesday or perhaps later.
A news conference outlining the transfer of the Moose is planned for Friday in St. John’s, but given the delay in Winnipeg, the St. John’s announcement could be pushed back to next week.
“There are certain things that first have to happen,” said the former premier, “not the least of which is the NHL deal has to fall in place.”
Following Saturday’s Telegram report, the Moose issued the following release through Twitter: “Despite reports in the St. John’s Telegram, there is no agreement that would see the Moose move to St. John’s.”
When contacted Sunday evening, former St. John’s Maple Leafs director of operations Glenn Stanford, who will take over the new St. John’s AHL club when it arrives, declined comment.
Not that Stanford can say much. He is currently employed as president and governor of the Hamilton Bulldogs, who will play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final tonight in Houston.
True North, under Mark Chipman, has also been ultra quiet through the whole process — first with the Phoenix Coyotes and now with Atlanta — for fear of upsetting the NHL applecart a la Jim Balsillie.
It was also reported in The Telegram Saturday Williams intends to eventually purchase the franchise from Chipman and True North in a year or two.
“There are certain things that first have to happen, not the least of which is the NHL deal has to fall in place.” - Danny Williams
“Yes, I suppose it’s something I’d entertain,” he said, before adding, “but it’s never been discussed.”
Williams also maintains there are no deals in place with Mile One Centre or the province.
The team, under Williams and Stanford, would have to reach a lease agreement with St. John’s Sports and Entertainment. However, given SJSE’s desire to have American league hockey once again, and given the fact this is likely city’s best chance for an AHL club, it’s difficult to envision to the two sides not coming to an agreement.
As for the province, the new AHL team would be looking for some assistance, much the same as Winnipeg in its NHL bid.
“Call it a travel subsidy, call it economic development of whatever form you like, but the economic spinoff (of an AHL team) would be significant,” Williams said. “You’d have a payroll here of $2 million or $3 million a year, and that doesn’t even include the visiting teams and visiting fans coming in for games.”
For the past number of years, the Moose have been the farm team of the Vancouver Canucks. However, with the transfer of Atlanta to Winnipeg, the new St. John’s club will be the farm team of the fledgling Manitoba franchise.
The Thrashers’ AHL affiliate had been the Chicago Wolves. But because Chicago owns the AHL franchise and not Atlanta, the minor league club is not part of the NHL transaction leaving the Wolves to find an NHL partner.
The arrival of the new AHL club will bring an anchor tenant to Mile One for the first time since 2007-08. That was the final season of the three-year-old Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise, the Fog Devils, who were sold to Montreal interests and became the Junior de Montreal.
Before that, St. John’s was home to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ farm club for 14 years. That franchise relocated to Toronto following the 2004-05 hockey season.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org