The Kelly Cup is set to visit the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly this afternoon, but the ECHL’s championship trophy has already experienced its share of politics, albeit the small “p” kind. That, of course, relates to the ongoing saga of the Colorado Eagles and their refusal to let go of the Kelly Cup they won as 2018 ECHL champions, a kidnapping that led to the league commissioning a new trophy.
That new Kelly Cup (it’s actually the fourth version, two others are in the Hockey Hall of Fame) was lifted in triumph by the Newfoundland Growlers last week at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, but it turns out the Growlers have more of a tie-in to the Eagles-ECHL dispute than simply being the first team to hoist the replacement silverware.
It stems from the Eagles’ off-season departure from the ECHL to join the American Hockey League as the new farm team of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. The Eagles paid an exit fee of $500,000 to do so, but team owner Martin Lind had hoped to recoup the money by selling his ECHL franchise.
In a weekend story in the Denver Post, Lind accused the ECHL of underhandedness in that it prevented him from being able to negotiate with those looking to bring a team to Newfoundland, a group which eventually joined then league as the Growlers, paying an expansion fee of $1 million US to do so.
Lind paid his exit fee to the ECHL in September of 2017 just as the Eagles were preparing for their final season in the league. Meanwhile, LInd was given three months in which to arrange a franchise transfer to another location and to an acceptable new owner.
That deadline was Dec. 15, 2017, and while The Telegram reported in early December that St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald and local hockey executive Glenn Stanford were looking at bringing an ECHL team to St. John’s, they never negotiated with Lind.
“Of course, we were aware Colorado was leaving and was going into the American Hockey League,” Stanford, the Growlers’ chief operating officer, told The Telegram. “But we followed the policy and guidelines of the league office. We were completely in their hands.”
Lind told The Post he was not made known of the Newfoundland’s ECHL aspirations when they were originally communicated to the league.
The ECHL counters by saying the interest of the MacDonald-Stanford group at the time was only that, interest, nothing more. For one thing, they were without a lease deal at Mile One and facing the initial roadblock of the veto held by the National Basketball League of Canada’s St. John’s Edge, who were Mile One’s primary tenant in 2017-18. Even after that issue was settled, there was still the matter of negotiating a lease deal. By the time everything was clewed up and the soon-to-be Growlers officially entered the ECHL, it was March 13, 2018, about 90 days after the Lind’s deadline to sell had passed.
Still, Lind saw the Newfoundland group as an opportunity denied to him, claiming he would have been willing to sell MacDonald and Stanford his ECHL franchise for $800,000, a figure that coincidentally represents the sum of the $300,000 he paid to obtain the franchise in 2011 and the exit fee he paid in the fall of 2017.
As it stands, he recouped nothing, and because of previous agreements, cannot sue the ECHL.
Meanwhile, Stanford said the Growlers don’t feel that they missed out on the savings that might have come with a possible purchase of Lind’s franchise.
“I don’t think it’s regret, because we were never provided the opportunity to do it,” said Stanford.
“We followed a process under the direction of the league and if (the chance to negotiate a transfer purchase of the Eagles’ franchise) was truly there, I’m assuming the league would have given us that opportunity.”