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It's spring ... can you hear the buzzing about the 'Q' back in St. John's?

In this March 25, 2008 file photo, St. John’s Fog Devils centre Wes Welcher (14) takes a faceoff against Eric Faille of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan during QMJHL playoff action at Mile One Centre. The Fog Devils’ Luke Adam (19) and Titan’s Maxime Renaud (2) look on. That was the final season of the Fog Devils in St. John's. The franchise was sold and moved to suburban Montreal. However, the ownership group for the NBL Canada's St. John's Edge says they have already begun work at bringing the QMJHL back to Newfoundland.
In this March 25, 2008 file photo, St. John’s Fog Devils centre Wes Welcher (14) takes a faceoff against Eric Faille of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan during QMJHL playoff action at Mile One Centre. The Fog Devils’ Luke Adam (19) and Titan’s Maxime Renaud (2) look on. That was the final season of the Fog Devils in St. John's. The franchise was sold and moved to suburban Montreal. However, the ownership group for the NBL Canada's St. John's Edge says they have already begun work at bringing the QMJHL back to Newfoundland.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League president Gilles Courteau holds his annual state of the league press briefing today on the eve of the QMJHL’s annual draft in Saint John, N.B., and it’s pretty much a guarantee Courteau will be asked about the possibility of the Q returning to Newfoundland, especially in light of Thursday’s online column from Stephane Leroux of RDS.

Leroux predicts the league will be back in St. John’s within the next two years as the result of ongoing efforts to find a Mile One Centre replacement for the St. John’s IceCaps, whose six-year stay in the American Hockey League is over. 

When it comes to the QMJHL, there may be no better-connected journalist than Leroux, but his Thursday column is as much of a speculative piece as a straight story and, as such, shouldn’t be treated as an offering of absolute facts.

For one thing, Leroux says a group of businessmen led by Glenn Stanford and Tony Kenny are seeking a QMJHL franchise for St. John’s.

It’s been known for sometime that Stanford, who had been the IceCaps’ chief operating officer, has been working on acquisition of a QMJHL franchise, but that effort definitely does not include Kenny.

If Kenny is indeed after a team, it would be more likely that it would be as part of some sort of a competing bid, just as was the case in 2004, when Stanford, then working the point for St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE), sought a QMJHL expansion franchise for St. John’s, what with the AHL’s St. John’s Maple Leafs about to leave town. Also looking for a ‘Q’ team at the time were two other groups — one led by businessman Derm Dobbin and the other known as JCT Enterprises, whose moniker came from the first names of its principles — John Fisher, Chris Moore and Kenny. JCT eventually dropped out and the league went with Dobbin’s bid over SJSE’s, resulting in the brief three-year QMJHL history of the St. John’s Fog Devils before that franchise was sold and relocated to suburban Montreal in 2008.

Kenny was associated with a second effort to bring a QMJHL team here. That was 2010, when he, Fisher and Mount Pearl lawyer Bill Kennedy attempted to buy the Acadie-Bathurst Titan and relocate that team to St. John’s. They weren’t successful saying they got little or no co-operation from Mile One operator SJSE. Instead, a little over a year later, the AHL was back in St. John’s in the form of the IceCaps.

Leroux said it is his belief a new team in St. John’s could result from expansion, noting the potential for the league’s member teams to share in the expansion fee. 

However an expanded QMJHL would run counter to what’s transpired — or not transpired — to date.

For one thing, a number of league sources have said the QMJHL is leery about diluting its player pool. For another, Stanford’s work at securing a major junior franchise has been going on for the better part of a year, ever since learning the Ottawa Senators would be moving their farm club to Belleville, Ont., thereby eliminating St. John’s last real hope of obtaining another AHL team.

Had the QMJHL really been interested in expanding (at least this year), there would have been plenty of lead time to make the arrangements for an expansion team to begin play this fall. Instead, Stanford’s focus has been on acquiring an existing team, although he hasn’t found a willing seller as of today, meaning the earliest we now could expect major junior hockey here is 2018-19. 

Leroux lists the Gatineau Olympiques, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, Charlottetown Islanders and Titan and teams that have already been approached, which falls in line with various reports over the past winter.

There were a couple of other interesting points in Leroux’s column.

For one thing, he revealed Courteau and the league have already checked with the Newfoundland and Labrador government to gauge this province’s stance regarding the ongoing class-action lawsuits which claim major junior hockey players in Canada should be treated as paid employees not amateur athletes. If anything, that would at least reveal the QMJHL’s genuine interest in the possibility of reappearance in St. John’s.

Leroux also suggested any expansion fee — and it could be assumed, the price of existing QMJHL franchise — would be about $6 million, although that seems a tad high considering that would be twice as much as it cost Dobbin to acquire the Fog Devils expansion team in 2005.

But whatever the hits and/or misses, you can be assured there is plenty of solid background to what Leroux writes, meaning his column — and perhaps some resulting comments from Courteau today — will assuredly intensify the buzz about the possibility of QMJHL 2.0 in St. John’s.

 

bmcc@thetelegram.com

 

 

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