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.
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...
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:
Additional leverage for @vancanucks is their option to move new AHL team into lower bowl at Rogers Arena for 2013-'14. Abby is Plan A.— Tom Mayenknecht (@TheSportMarket) April 1, 2013
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...