Canucks AHL Affiliate Won't be in Abbotsford Next Season, Looking at Other Options

Thomas Drance
April 24 2013 07:50AM


To the surprise of many, both the Heat and the Rivermen might still exist next season.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , PNG files

The Canucks, who recently purchased the Peoria Rivermen amidst much speculation that the club would move the team to the Fraser Valley and supplant the Flames affiliated Abbotsford Heat, will ultimately not have a farm team located in Abbotsford next season. As first reported by Dan Kinvig of the Abbotsford News, that much is clear, though it's reportedly not for a lack of trying on the part of both the Canucks organization, the Flames organization and the city of Abbotsford itself.

So what went wrong and what are some possible fallback options for the Canucks? We'll look into it on the other side of the jump.

In Dan Kinvig's original report, he writes that:

Both of the parties which run the Heat – the Flames, who own the team and handle the hockey operations, and Fraser Valley Sports and Entertainment (FVSE), which manages the business side – were willing to step aside and make room for the Canucks.

But that wasn't enough to get it done, which seems frustrating. According to Lane Sweeting of the FVSE, the Heat asked the AHL for an extension to help facilitate a deal (there's some sort of scheduling deadilne apparently). When such an extension wasn't granted the two sides "just ran out of time."

Brad Ziemer, in a piece on the Vancouver Sun website that quotes Laurence Gilman (albeit not on this subject directly), had something of a different take on why a deal wasn't consumated:

[Gilman] also refused to comment on the failure to strike a deal with the City of Abbotsford. But it seems apparent the Canucks and the City of Abbotsford could not agree who should compensate the Calgary Flames for walking away from the sweetheart lease deal the Flames have with the city for their Abbotsford Heat franchise.

Ziemer's take is somewhat more in line with what we've expected all along. Though others, like Harrison Mooney, were of the opinion that the Flames were willing to get out of Abbotsford in order to duck an ongoing public relations black eye (the Heat have a supply-fee agreement with the city that cost Abbotsford taxpayers nearly 2 million dollars last season, and will probably run taxpayers a similar amount this year, though the precise figure won't be known until the fall), I've been pretty consistently cynical on this front. If Ziemer is doing more than just speculating here and I think he probably is, then it certainly seems like the cushy supply-fee agreement and Abbotsford's geographical proximity to Calgary outweighed any negative attention the Flames have recieved for, y'know, gouging the public funds of a British Columbian municipality.

On the other hand, it also appears that the city of Abbotsford played hardball with the Canucks (who in fairness probably balled so hard in return). That said, according to Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman by way of Dan Kinvig, the Canucks organization reportedly wasn't looking for the city to compensate any future losses were their affiliate to take over from the Heat in the valley. Well then, what a tremendous missed opportunity for all involved...

So what's next for the Canucks on their search for a place to locate the club's new AHL affiliate? Let's run through some options.

Peoria

It looks like there remains at least an outside chance that the Peoria Rivermen could, perhaps, stay put in Illinois. Per Brad Ziemer:

Assistant general manager Laurence Gilman and chief operating officer Victor de Bonis spent Tuesday in Peoria, where they met with officials of the Rivermen franchise.

"We're exploring our options," Gilman said. "Out of respect for Peoria, which has a long history with minor-league hockey, we're discussing the possibility of keeping the team here but we're still at the fact-finding stage. There are other options."

Other options eh? Like perhaps...

Upstate New York

I'm basing this one solely on Laurence Gilman's admission during a radio interview with Blake Price and Matt Sekeres on the Team 1040 a week ago, that he was looking over Central Park in New York City, and was in the state alongside Victor de Bonis for the purposes of scouting out some possible locations for the team's new AHL affiliate.

New York State is already home to four AHL affiliated clubs including the Albany Devils (who aren't going anywhere), the Syracuse Crunch (who only recently signed a multi-year affiliation agreement with the Lightning), the Binghamton Senators (also not going anywhere) and the Adirondack Phantoms (who are scheduled to leave New York state following next season). So perhaps Adirondack could make sense in a couple of years time, but that seems like a stretch.

Of course, there were also those rumours of Utica trying to woo the Calgary Flames, so perhaps it wouldn't be a shocker if they've shifted their attention to the Canucks and the Peoria Rivermen...

Rogers Arena

This was an option strongly suggested by Tom Mayenknecht, whose reporting on this topic has been extremely reliable over the past couple of months, earlier this month:

That echoed Iain Macintyre's sense of things when he wrote, "The Canucks will relocate the American Hockey League team from Illinois to an as-yet determined city nearer Vancouver," in a piece earlier this month in which he quoted Mike Gillis, albeit not on this precise subject. For what it's worth, Jason Botchford is hearing similar rumblings about the possibility of a Canucks owned and operated AHL affiliate playing at Rogers Arena as well.

For Vancouver hockey fans, you can't really do much better than an AHL affiliate occupying the same building as the Canucks. Twenty dollar professional hockey in downtown Vancouver? Sign me up. Though of course, such a scenario could prove to be a nightmare for the Abbotsford Heat and Abbotsford taxpayers. By their lowly standards the Heat had a somewhat respectable season attendance wise this year and obviously some hope remains that they can attract enough fans to mitigate the city's losses. A competing AHL team, however, especially one affiliated with the popular local club and located conveniently downtown, well let's just say that wouldn't help matters...

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Benson
April 24 2013, 08:32AM
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Next year only they should put the baby 'Nucks in Airdrie or Okotoks. After that, Abbotsford probably becomes available...

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#2 John Andress
April 24 2013, 08:57AM
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I find myself wondering what the good tax payers in the Municipality of Abbotsford think about this situation. Perhaps they are so committed to The Heat and the Calgary Flames that ponying up two million dollars a year is a mere bagatelle to them. More likely they will have a few words for the local politicians on the subject come the next municipal elections.

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#3 Rob
April 24 2013, 09:28AM
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Benson wrote:

Next year only they should put the baby 'Nucks in Airdrie or Okotoks. After that, Abbotsford probably becomes available...

I live in North Calgary and would love to have the baby 'Nucks in Airdrie, I would be first in line for season tickets. There are plenty of Canuck fans in this city to support the team, I couldn't imagine they would have a difficult time selling tickets. But moving the Canucks affiliate to Alberta is almost as bad as having them in Chicago, I don't see that happening any time soon.

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#4 Collin
April 24 2013, 10:12AM
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Having their AHL affiliate play out of Rogers Arena seems like such an easy option, with a high chance of success. The only thing that makes me think Abbotsford is preferred is the cost of living vs. Vancouver. Some of the players on the Wolves only make 50K yearly salary. That's not much to live on in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

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#5 Max
April 24 2013, 11:00AM
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What about south of the border? There's been a lot of talk about Seattle becoming an NHL town, currently it just has a WHL franchise, and there's no real AHL level hockey played close to that city, but it's just a three hour drive from Vancouver. Key Arena in downtown Seattle is plenty big enough for an AHL franchise, or they could play at the same arena as either the Thunderbirds or the Everett Silvertips. Curious if any rumours about Seattle hosting the baby Canucks have surfaced...

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#6 Unknown Comic
April 24 2013, 11:26AM
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After Calgary iced that shameful lineup last night, it doesn't appear they care about a "public relations black eye".

I assume Abbotsford's contract with Calgary does not allow for a second team in the building, but I don't see why the Heat and Wolves can't both play out of Abby next year?

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#7 Mantastic
April 24 2013, 12:04PM
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@Max

Portland is pretty close to Seattle... 2 AHL teams in the NW of America seems like a stretch.

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#8 Mantastic
April 24 2013, 12:05PM
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@Unknown Comic

who would come see the heat next season then? one team will have negative profits and one might break even? that's a horrible idea.

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#9 hank2dank
April 24 2013, 01:59PM
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Mantastic wrote:

Portland is pretty close to Seattle... 2 AHL teams in the NW of America seems like a stretch.

Portland Oregon doesn't have an AHL team. The Winterhawks are WHL and the Portland Pirates are in Portland Maine.

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#10 elvis15
April 24 2013, 03:23PM
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I find it hard to believe they'd move the team from Peoria for just a one year stopgap until they can get Abbotsford figured out. Unless the move is to another Northwest location in the area (I think Van is too close for the Heat, and maybe even the Giants, to survive) then I'd think they strongly consider staying in Peoria another year.

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#11 Wetcoaster
April 25 2013, 12:06AM
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"The only thing that makes me think Abbotsford is preferred is the cost of living vs. Vancouver. Some of the players on the Wolves only make 50K yearly salary. That's not much to live on in one of the most expensive cities in the world."

The most expensive part of living in Vancouver is the astronomical price of real estate. That's mitigated in part by renting. Would the organization be able to cut a housing allowance for the players if that's an issue?

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#12 Dean
April 25 2013, 03:59PM
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Mantastic wrote:

Portland is pretty close to Seattle... 2 AHL teams in the NW of America seems like a stretch.

The Portland AHL team is located in Maine not Oregon.

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