St. John's could use an angel

Brendan McCarthy
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In the theatre business, they are known as angels. People who will back a particular production - either financially or with influence - when others are reluctant. Sometimes, money is the not-too-angelic motive, but in many cases, the backer simply believes in the product, profits be damned.
When it comes to the future of the American Hockey League production known as the IceCaps, St. Johns is badly in need of an angel.

We are almost a month removed from the AHL All-Star Classic at Mile One Centre, an event which was touted as an important showcase for a city which is scrambling to find a replacement for the Winnipeg Jets, who will relocate their minor-league franchise from here, most likely in 2015.

The All-Star Game was a huge success - St. John's never looked better as a "hockey town" - but as bait to attract a new team here, it probably had less than the desired effect. That's because not many of the sort of the fish that needed to be hooked - the right NHL-level decision-makers - were here to see it in person.

Good for Danny Williams for pledging to buy an AHL franchise if necessary. That's a $4 to $6 million commitment, substantial even for a man of his means. Good for AHL president David Andrews for stating St. John's is an important market for the league to retain, and for his assurances he will do all he can to assist in keeping an AHL presence here. Even good on the Jets for saying they'll help out in the effort to find their replacement.

But none of this matters unless there is an NHL team willing to have its AHL affiliate here.

Williams can own an AHL franchise, but it's useless unless there is an affiliation deal accompanying it. Andrews and members of the league's board of governors might badly want St. John's to stay in the AHL family, but unless there is a prospective parent club, their goodwill means little.

First and foremost, St. John's needs a willing NHL partner. And in this regard, St. John's requires an angel.

What's needed is one person in charge of decision-making when it comes to AHL affiliation who believes that when it comes to location of a farm team, the environment surrounding prospects is paramount, not proximity to the parent club.

Someone who wants players sent down to know they are being sent down and those who have been called up to fully have the sense of promotion. (This, for example, would not be anyone in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, which appears quite content with a situation where promotion and demotion between the Leafs and Marlies involves a cab ride between the Ricoh Coliseum and ACC.)

Someone who feels it's important that prospects play in front of big crowds of knowledgeable fans - whether its a Tuesday night or a weekend date - and come to feel responsible to those fans.

Someone who wants first-class local treatment for their prospects as they come to learn what it means to be, and act like, a pro.

Someone who wants farmhands to feel the weight of notoriety, in a place where they are widely known, not mostly anonymous. Someone who sees the value of having the teams' exploits (and analysis of the same), along with stories on individual players, featured regularly on the front page of a newspaper's sports section, not sporadically on Page 5, Someone who wants almost every game carried on live local television, with accompanying scrutiny and interviews. Someone who wants their farm team in a place where AHL hockey is the unquestioned No. 1 sporting/entertainment attraction.

St. John's offers all of this, but the search for this "someone" will not be easy, in large because there are fewer of these types of people in NHL operations these days.

As well, that person - if they are out there - has to be attached to the right big-league team.

It's obvious now that those in western locales will be difficult to convince, no matter how positively they view St. John's. Others may have affiliation agreements - or in the case of NHL clubs, like the Jets, which directly own AHL franchises, leasing deals - that will not expire until well after Winnipeg pulls up stakes.

And there are those who will be part of a collective decision, who will need to convince others in their organization that the benefits of having AHL prospects in a hockey hotbed some distance removed from the parent team (and for St. John's, this will be most every case) can outweigh those that come with having the farm club closer at hand, whether that's easier access to prospects in times of roster needs or the resulting advantages in management of the salary cap, so important these days.

For Williams and Glen Stanford and the IceCaps (because the nickname is not moving with the Jets), this will be a difficult search, made even tougher because other cities - Glen Falls, N.Y., for one - are also looking for new affiliations. And the list of franchise-seekers will only grow, if as Andrews predicts, more western-based NHL teams look to move their prospect development operations closer to the Pacific.

But if you believe in angels, who knows what might transpire?

Like it did three years ago, when everything fell into place for St. John's, what with the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg, leaving the Jets with a short time frame to find a new home for their AHL team, the former Manitoba Moose, and to find one within Canada (which was important to the Jets), one with the right operators (Williams and Stanford) and one that could get operations underway quickly and efficiently.

Heaven only knows if it can happen again.

Organizations: Winnipeg Jets, NHL, AHL All-Star Classic Toronto Maple Leafs organization IceCaps Atlanta Thrashers

Geographic location: St. John's, Winnipeg, Glen Falls Canada

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Recent comments

  • SayWhat
    March 14, 2014 - 15:16

    I was on another website and came across this drivel. Are you telling me that the value of an AHL franchise is less than 2 percent of an NHL team? And its less than the value of two CHL teams that are up for sale? Laughable. This story really--really shows a lack of understanding about the business of professional sports. If Danny Williams offered True North six million dollars for the AHL franchise he would be laughed out the door.

  • wayne
    March 07, 2014 - 09:59

    seriuously folks....who really cares if we have an AHL team of not ? At most, a couple of thousand "townies". Most of us have never seen a game and are interested at all.. What I would like to see is for the huge "white elephant" that is Mile One, to stop getting a single cent of my taxes and the subsidy dollars go into filling pot holes or replacing 100+ year old water and sewer systems

    • HockeyFannl
      March 07, 2014 - 23:11

      If you don't live in the City of St. John's then you are not paying for Mile One. St. John's taxpayers are going that alone even though everyone from every surrounding community is going down there for concerts, games, etc. As for AHL Hockey how about doing yourself and everyone else a favour and do some research before coming on here and spewing your uneducated guess on who attends games at Mile One. Do you realize that the team has 107 consecutive sellouts which is pretty close on the AHL record? Or the fact that not all season seat holders are from St. John's because I know for a fact that there are season seat holders who live in CBN who are out to Mile One for every game whether and they have been there in some very crappy weather too. In addition do you realize what an economic spinoff this team has on the city with the visiting teams renting hotel rooms, fans dining out and going to the bars before and after the games, etc. Like I said before get yourself educated before coming on here and spewing your drivel.