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ECHL a definite possibility for St. John's, but give it at least a week, probably longer

The ECHL has 27 teams and is set to add another in Portland, Me., next season. An effort to have St. John's also join the league in 2018-19 has been underway for some time, but there still would be hurdles to get over before an ECHL franchise is based out of Mile One Centre. — echl.com
The ECHL has 27 teams and is set to add another in Portland, Me., next season. An effort to have St. John's also join the league in 2018-19 has been underway for some time, but there still would be hurdles to get over before an ECHL franchise is based out of Mile One Centre. — echl.com

Much has been done, more must transpire before St. John’s gets a new pro hockey team

 

 

There is a cyber-age version of the ripple-causing pebble.

It is called a tweet.

One or two Twitter offerings over the last couple of days have produced online and on-air ripples that have turned into the conclusion the ECHL is on the verge of revealing it will have a new team in St. John’s next season.

Two of the big requirements to make that a reality — a potential ownership group and a willing league — are in place, but before the minor pro hockey league can definitely announce it's coming to Newfoundland, a couple of things still have to happen.

One is to get to next Tuesday.

That’s when a group headed by St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald, who has been actively working to establish an ECHL franchise in the Newfoundland capital, could be in a position to begin negotiations on a lease to have such a team play out of Mile One Centre.

The second is to obtain the lease, which recent history has shown might not happen easily or expeditiously … if at all.

The ECHL will not give final approval for a team in St. John’s if no such deal is in place.

The MacDonald group’s ECHL aspirations were made known last month.

“The league (ECHL) is excited,” MacDonald told The Telegram on Dec. 8.

“They know it is a great hockey town. The next phase for us is to get confirmation from the (City of St. John’s) that we’re good to go.”

But between then and now, there has been some waiting as MacDonald dealt with what he referred to as “a city-imposed timeline.”

Here’s why:

The lease agreement reached earlier this year that put the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge in Mile One included a clause providing the owners of the hoops team with 18 months of exclusivity when it came to bringing a hockey team to the building. But there was a sub-clause that basically said if someone other than the Edge ownership came forward with another hockey proposal then the Edge owners would have a certain amount of time to deliver their own hockey plan. Otherwise, the exclusivity would disappear.

Turns out amount of time that was 45 days.

With MacDonald having formally notified City Hall of his group’s intentions on Dec. 8, the 45th day will be Monday. If the Edge owners can’t deliver a hockey counter-plan by that time, talks between MacDonald and St. John’s Sports and Entertainment — the city-established entity that runs Mile One — could begin next Tuesday.

“As I understand it, on that date, they (the MacDonald group) are free to contact St. John’s Sports and Entertainment and to begin discussions,” was how St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen characterized the process.

Mind you, the Edge ownership could shut out MacDonald by suddenly coming forward and announcing it has a deal for a hockey team in place. However, to hear Edge primary owner Irwin Simon during his visit to St. John’s on the weekend, that’s not going to happen before the deadline.

“Find out what is it and take your time doing it,” Simon told The Telegram on Saturday.

“Take your time,” is not a phrase used by someone planning to act within the next seven days.

It’s also noteworthy that until MacDonald is in possession of a finalized leased deal, Simon and Co. will be free to continue their pursuit of a hockey franchise since no exclusivity will have passed to the other group.

In a bit of a shocker, the Edge ownership, which just last month was zeroed in on getting a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise — and at the same time was openly dismissive of the ECHL — now appears to be less picky.

Simon mentioned the American Hockey League and ECHL, in addition to the Q, as considerations.

But there are few here who believe the AHL will be returning to St. John’s any time soon.

Breen said the city has no preference for a league, adding that any negotiations with regards to a hockey team at Mile One will be handled by SJSE, not city staff.

“I’m sure there are a number of options to be explored, but how many of those options are real is another matter,” said Breen.

The ECHL option could start to become real next week, although we’ve learned when it comes to sports franchises and Mile One, there is often a tangle.

One final, final note: There seems to be much speculation that an ECHL team coming to St. John’s would be affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens.

MacDonald has said his group has already lined up an NHL affiliation, but added he was not in a position to reveal the big-league partner. But we can tell you this; there have been no birdies that have flown in this direction indicating it’s the Canadiens who are involved.

Sorry, Habs fans.

 

brendan.mccarthy@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @telybrendan

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