It certainly didn’t take long for the Binghamton Senators to react to reports out of St. John’s that this city is eager to cosy up to the Ottawa Senators now that a divorce is imminent with the Winnipeg Jets.
Responding to stories in The Telegram that Ottawa might be a suitor for St. John’s when the Jets take off from Newfoundland for good next year, Binghamton executive vice-president Tom Mitchell and Ottawa assistant general manager Randy Lee went before the Bingo microphones last week with the message that everything is just swell in that neck of the AHL woods.
Binghamton’s contract expires with Ottawa following the 2014-15 AHL season, which if nothing else makes for convenient timing here, given the Winnipeg-St. John’s deal closes at the same time.
“My president (Bryan Murray) has empowered me to talk to Tom,” Lee told reporters.
“They want to start negotiations on an extension right away.”
That could be lip service on behalf of Ottawa. Or it might not. Ottawa and Binghamton have a relationship dating back to 2002.
It wasn’t always chummy, but it’s worked. Bingo has developed players for the big club, and it helps that Ottawa’s only a few hours away. Too much has been read into the fact that Ottawa is one of the teams coming here for an NHL exhibition, against the New York Islanders.
Fact is, as Lee puts it, the Sens were approached by a promoter who wanted a couple of games. And St. John’s happened to be one of the cities which would take a pair of teams destined to finish out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It’s not like Ottawa went seeking out St. John’s.
“That’s all it is,” Lee said. Truth is, Ottawa is no more or no less interested in setting up shop here than Montreal, the Islanders, New Jersey Devils or any one of a number of other NHL teams.
Not saying the Sens are writing off St. John’s. But it’s safe to say there’s certainly nothing on the table now. Look, this whole travel thing is nothing but a convenient argument, anyway. The number of times a player has to be summoned from the farm to the parent club in an emergency are rare.
Half the time either the NHL team or the AHL team is on the road, anyway.
Face it, regardless of the fan and corporate support St. John’s receives, this city is off the beaten path in the eyes of many NHL officials. We may as well be in Russia.
So, it’s going to take one heck of a sales job, and a lot of luck, to land another AHL franchise. Not to be a sourpuss about all this — hopefully it doesn’t overshadow this year’s Calder Cup playoff run, where I expect the IceCaps to go deep — but it’s not going to get any easier as we move forward. If the AHL ever decides to go further west — and western-based NHL teams have more than hinted they’d like to see it happen — that would leave more longtime AHL cities (i.e. the competition) vying for NHL partners, places like Worcester, Mass., and Manchester, N.H., if the Sharks and Kings ever left town
Not that it’s all doom and gloom. There is a faint hope. With the Sens and, especially, the Isles, money talks. Cash is king, and kings make the rules. Maybe the Islanders could be convinced to look at St. John’s, to bring the AHL team they own to Mile One instead of Uniondale, N.Y., their current home until their new digs at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn is ready in 2015. But in order to make it happen, another pro team would have to replace New York’s AHL club in Bridgeport, Conn.
Maybe that team could be the Devils, moving a bit closer to home from Albany, where they currently reside, drawing flies. Maybe the New York Rangers, supposedly not thrilled with the way things are going in Hartford. But you see, that’s the problem.
There are way too many maybes, ifs and buts. Strangely enough, St. John’s best bet might rest with a city that doesn’t even have an NHL team. But Quebec City won’t be without one for long.
The NHL is said to be looking at Seattle and Las Vegas, but with a new $400-million rink going up in Quebec City, no one can convince me that city isn’t getting a team when the first sheet of ice is made. Nobody, not an individual or government (municipal, provincial or otherwise) would travel down the slippery, expensive slope without some form of backroom assurance that a team — be it relocation or expansion — is on the way.
And a new NHL team needs a farm team. But there is a quandary to that, too. This scenario won’t likely play out for at least a couple of years, leaving Mile One sitting empty after the Jets leave town (and make no mistake, they’re gone next year, regardless if there’s a rink in Thunder Bay or not).
And we’re not even certain Quebec City would fancy St. John’s as a minor league partner. Hard to believe NHL teams would overlook this city, with its a model franchise, dedicated fan following, committed corporate backing and first-class front office itching for another crack at the American Hockey League.
Even more hard to believe, however, is they probably don’t even care.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort
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