The owners of the St. John’s Edge want to bring a hockey team to St. John’s, but they don’t have one yet.
In the meantime, another group looks ready to deliver an ECHL team to the city and could be in a position to begin lease negotiations with the operators of Mile One Centre in about a week’s time.
But Irwin Simon, the Edge’s principal owner, doesn’t sound like he’s going to be rushed into a competition over hockey.
“All of a sudden, we seem to be in this ‘beat the clock’ for a hockey team,” said Simon. “I don’t believe in beating the clock. I do believe it will ultimately work itself out.”
Last year, when it worked out its lease deal to bring the National Basketball League of Canada’s Edge to St. John’s, Atlantic Sports Enterprises — the formal name of the team’s ownership group — obtained an exclusivity clause, giving it an 18-month window in which to obtain a hockey franchise to operate out of Mile One. But it turns out there was a sub-clause — a sort of shotgun clause — that said if someone else came forward with a plan to deliver hockey to the facility, that window would begin to close.
In early December, a group headed up by St. John’s businessman Dean MacDonald formally served notice it was in a position to obtain an ECHL team for St. John’s, which in turn, set a clock ticking — a 45-day clock it turned out — in which the Edge owners could respond with their own proposal and retain their exclusivity.
The 45-day mark will come Jan. 22 and it doesn’t appear Simon and his ownership group will have a team to offer by that time.
But while that means St. John’s Sports and Entertainment — the city appointed board that runs Mile One — can institute talks with the MacDonald group, Simon and his partners would not be entirely shut out. They could continue to pursue a hockey franchise as long as no lease deal was in place with MacDonald.
“We’ll work with Mile One, work with the city,” said Simon. “Part of the plan is like we did with basketball, to build a great hockey team, but not take away from basketball.”
One interesting revelation is that the Edge owners have seemed to switch their focus, which at one time was stated to be only on obtaining a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League franchise.
“The key is finding out what is the right hockey team. Is it AHL? Is it junior hockey or the East Coast league (ECHL)? Find out what is it and take your time doing it,” said Simon.
That stands in stark contrast to what seemed to be Edge owners’ attitude last month after they learned MacDonald was in a position to bring the ECHL to St. John’s.
John Graham, who had negotiated the basketball team’s lease deal with Mile One, made it clear the Edge ownership was after the ‘Q’,” and was dismissive of the ECHL and insisted there was no chance of the American Hockey League coming back to St. John’s.
“(The AHL) has moved on,” said Graham five weeks ago. “The next best thing is Quebec Major Junior. We want quality. Anything less than that, we don’t consider quality.”
But to hear Simon, the pro option — AHL or ECHL — is something they are looking at. In fact, he spoke about the importance “of who your is your affiliation with.”
There are no NHL affiliations in major junior hockey.
“It’s not I’m concerned,” answered Simon when asked about the MacDonald bid and the 45-day process. “I think we are a good ownership group that will bring a great product.
“If this ownership group is not part of a hockey group and other stuff, I think St. John’s would lose out by not having us involved.”