Column: Affiliation consternation

Brendan McCarthy
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It would be wrong to suggest the people running the St. John’s IceCaps are starting to look for a new American Hockey League franchise to bring here now that the Winnipeg Jets have announced they intend to move their AHL franchise from St. John’s.

St. John's IceCaps logo

In fact, preliminary work on finding a replacement has been underway for some time.

Danny Williams and Glenn Stanford of the IceCaps have always been aware that the Jets might eventually move their AHL operations to Thunder Bay if relocation to the Northern Ontario city became feasible, and with little or nothing happening in the way of negotiations about extending the Jets’ deal with the IceCaps, they had a good idea that they would need to find other options if they were to keep the AHL in Newfoundland.

That extra lead time may turn out to be important because this will not be an easy process. Wanting something and getting it are often two different things and this may be a good example.

If we are to accept geography — the distance between the IceCaps and the parent team — as the reason the Jets will leave here, probably in 2015, then it’s reasonable to assume the same problem would exist for most every other Western Conference NHL club. If so, affiliations with those teams are unlikely, meaning the IceCaps’ options are immediately and drastically reduced.

As well, bringing a team here could very well involve two separate deals.

The Jets own their AHL franchise, so successful negotiations with them in 2011 brought both a team and an NHL affiliation. However only about a third of AHL franchises are directly owned by NHL teams. The rest are privately owned and have negotiated affiliation agreements with NHL teams.

In other words, Williams and Stanford might successfully arrange a new NHL affiliation, but it won’t mean anything if they don’t own an AHL franchise. And even if Williams buys an AHL team, as he says he is willing to do, it may not automatically bring an NHL affiliation.

Here’s something else to consider when mulling over the affiliation options for the IceCaps: in the history of the American Hockey League, there have been only two cases of Canadian-based AHL teams being fully affiliated with a National Hockey League team in the United States. Those were the Quebec Aces, the farm club of the Philadelphia Flyers from 1967 to 1971, and the Cornwall Aces, who were the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche for one season (1995-96).

There have been a couple of instances where a Canadian NHL team had split affiliations involving NHL teams in the U.S. The New Brunswick Hawks had players from both Toronto and Chicago, while the Moncton Golden Flames were Calgary’s farm team from 1984 to 1987, but were also supplied with players from the Boston Bruins for couple of years.

There have also been a few more partial or loose affiliations whereby a few players were assigned to a particular club, the most recent being in 2004-05 when the Dallas Stars sent a few prospects to augment the Hamilton Bulldogs, the farm team of the Montreal Canadiens.

But cross-border affiliations involving AHL teams located in Canada have been extremely rare.

•••

Lots of people asking about the timing of the announcement of the Jets’ plans to move their AHL franchise to Thunder Bay, especially considering the damper effect it could have on the AHL All-Star game to be played at Mile One Centre in two weeks.

To be fair, the timing wasn’t of the Jets’ doing, but rather was dictated by the City of Thunder Bay when the latter revealed the preferred bidder for construction and operation of a proposed $106 million arena/convention centre project. Since True North Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Jets, is part of the consortium that Thunder Bay chose for the project, the Jets had little choice but to reveal their intentions, since relocation of the AHL franchise was part of the bid proposal.

As for the All-Star game, the tack being taken by the IceCaps’ front office is that the opportunity it offers to showcase the city and organization to the rest of the AHL and the league’s NHL partners takes on even greater meaning, what with the effort to bring another franchise here.

To that end, you can be sure the IceCaps hope that those jolted and/or jaded by the Jets’ announcement last week won’t show their displeasure by staying away from all-star festivities as a sort of private protest, but will instead embrace the event as an opportunity to reiterate St. John’s AHL worthinesss.

•••

The Jets have played eight games since defenceman Zach Redmond was recalled from the IceCaps Jan. 10 and Redmond hasn’t suited up for any of them.

Redmond, whose annual NHL salary is $715,000 as compared to $65,000 when in the AHL, probably isn’t complaining about his situation. However, there are plenty of St. John’s fans who wonder why the 25-year-old rearguard is sitting in a press box when he could be getting plenty of playing time on an IceCaps team that’s being forced to use forwards JC Lipon and John Albert on the point for power plays because of limited options in that regard.

See POSTMA, page C2

An answer of sorts may have come from Jets' owner Mark Chipman who, when speaking on the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg last week, suggested the IceCaps’ distance issue is one reason the Jets carry a full roster of 23, when many NHL teams will make do with 22, or even 21.

“For all intents and purposes, we’ve carried two extra players on our NHL roster this year,” Chipman said on the radio show. “Because of the injury plague we’ve had, it’s been necessary to keep more players closer and there is a pretty significant cost to that.”

•••

Redmond might not be the defenceman sent to the IceCaps if and when the Jets deem they have need to make a roster move at the position.

Paul Postma, who hasn’t played for Winnipeg since October because of a blood clot in his calf, has been participating in full practices for a week and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him sent to St. John’s on a temporary conditioning assignment.

Postma, who is operating on the first year of a one-way, two-year contract, played five games for Winnipeg before being sidelined with the blood-clot problem.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

 

 

Organizations: American Hockey League, The Jets, IceCaps National Hockey League Philadelphia Flyers Colorado Avalanche Canadian NHL Moncton Golden Flames Boston Bruins Dallas Stars AHL All-Star

Geographic location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, United States Redmond Toronto Chicago Calgary Canada Winnipeg

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Recent comments

  • SayWhat
    January 29, 2014 - 17:36

    To HockeyFannl...It will be Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The reason is that as we speak, a brand new 100 million dollar plus, 11,000 seat arena is being constructed. And some of those who are involved in this project were involved in the building of the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Also Sioux Falls is one of the top ten American minor sports markets. True North is already involved in one of the top three American minor sports markets with its participation in the Ontario Reign of the ECHL. Going to Sioux Falls will immediately add a 10 percent value to its AHL franchise. And I don't think there is an arena in North Dakota that compares to this one in Sioux Falls.

  • SayWhat
    January 28, 2014 - 10:42

    You should know in your expertise that a falling Canadian dollar is a primary factor in this decision making process. Right now Thunder Bay is out of the mix because of the dollar and Ottawa isn't going to spend a dime on new sports arenas. I firmly believe this team is going south of the border, say Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As the dollar falls, so do profit margins when it comes to professional hockey in St.John's. Some expenditures are now costing about 10 percent more than last year. Take for example this recent road trip where I am sure Hotel bills are being paid in American dollars. Last fall one of the big stories was the Goldman-Sachs prediction on the dollar and Bettman's concerns about the issue. Right now he's witnessing 7 teams that are seeing their combined values drop by hundreds of millions of dollars.

    • HockeyFannl
      January 28, 2014 - 20:23

      If they go anywhere down South it won't be to South Dakota but North Dakota as they are right on the border with Winnipeg.