One side has a hockey team ready to go this fall, pending a lease deal with Mile One. The other doesn’t, but already has its foot inside the building with ownership of the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge.
Would it make any sense for them to hook up?
Apparently Dean MacDonald’s group, which is ready to launch an ECHL team affiliated with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Atlantic Sports Enterprises Ltd. (ASE), which operates the Edge, have had some discussions about the possibility of a sort of joint effort, but details aren’t available.
Neither side has responded to queries looking for confirmation of the talks, so we can’t say how they were initiated or who did the initiating, and we don’t know how far they went,
But we do know there was some communication, although it appears to have ended sometime before the announcement by Mile One operator St. John’s Sports and Entertainment that it would not be entering into lease negotiations regarding a hockey team until finalization of binding arbitration on the issue of hockey exclusivity for the facility.
When the MacDonald group revealed its ECHL plan in December, it started a countdown clock — it was eventually set for 45 days — in which time ASE could reveal it had a counter-proposal. Those 45 days ticked off with no such revelation, leading MacDonald to indicate his side was ready to begin lease negotiations for the ECHL hockey team. But almost a week passed with no response from SJSE until the announcement that the Mile One operator wouldn’t negotiate at this time. That’s because ASE was protesting its lost hockey exclusivity and had indicated it would be exercising its right to go to binding arbitration on the matter.
The Telegram has learned the arbitration process has already started — an arbitrator has been chosen — but for some reason, the Get Smart cone of silence has also descended over those proceedings.
We’ve reached out to five different people/entities associated with the arbitration, asking about basics such as the following:
• had ASE actually filed for arbitration?
• if so, when it had done the filing?
• how an arbitrator would be decided on?
• once an arbitrator was agreed on, was there a specified time for the start-up of arbitration?
• who would represent the sides in the process?
• what would be the City of St. John’s role in the process, given SJSE is a city-appointed entity?
The result of those queries? By Sunday afternoon, officially, that St. John’s lawyer Glen Noel has been retained to represent ASE in the arbitration process.
Nobody would go on the record even to say that an arbitration request had been filed by ASE.
In some cases, there was no response to messages left. In the case of ASE co-owner Rob Sabbagh, he replied quickly but chose not to comment, referring the questions to Noel, who in turn confirmed he was working for ASE, but added he could say nothing further.
Then there was the reply from the City of St. John’s communications department which included a statement from Coun. Sandy Hickman, who is also a member of the SJSE board.
"Atlantic Sports Enterprises, Ltd. informed St. John's Sports and Entertainment of their intention to go to binding arbitration regarding the interpretation of the exclusivity clause in their contract. The next step is to mutually agree upon and confirm availability of an arbitrator. This is currently in process. Once the arbitrator is confirmed the schedule and process will be determined by the parties and the arbitrator. We do not know the timeline and will not speculate."
That response — referencing Hickman stating an arbitrator had to be agreed upon — came on Friday afternoon, after The Telegram had learned from other sources that SJSE and ASE had already settled on an arbitrator.
Bewildering to say the least.
If the city can’t even confirm the start of a process we already know is underway, it would probably be foolish to expect the city to say if it has any interest in acting — or if it has ever acted — as a go-between between the MacDonald group and ASE.
But it would seem to be at least worth a try, especially if there has been sort of initial discussion between the parties.
Contrary to what many people assume, MacDonald and his group are not involved in the arbitration, although they are more than interested in the proceedings given that each passing day chips away at the time they have before the ECHL tells them it’s too late to be ready for the 2018-19 season.
Mind you, MacDonald and ASE might still be seen as adversaries when it comes to hockey.
We’ll reiterate what has been said here before: Sabbagh, Edge co-owner Irwin Simon and A.S.E. came to St. John’s wanting to establish a hockey team; basketball is but an offshoot, albeit a successful one so far. They couldn’t find a hockey franchise to acquire for this current season and they don’t appear to have one for 2018-19, otherwise they would have revealed that fact and retained their exclusivity.
It’s more likely ASE is aiming for something for 2019-20 (especially given their bid to retain the exclusivity that would stretch to March of next year), but again nothing has been revealed.
On the other hand, MacDonald has a team at the ready that could provide three dozen or more dates for Mile One beginning next fall.
Perhaps there is no mutual deal to be had. Perhaps all the talking is done. But wouldn’t it behoove those ensconced at City Hall — and sitting smack dab next to a Mile One Centre that could use more activity — to find out for sure and to see if they could act as some sort of mediator or go-between the two sides?
Or is that too logical?
The way things are going, it might be tough to get an answer — sorry about that, chief — until those cones of silence are lifted.