May 24 2013 08:27AM
Will Vancouver park their newly purchased AHL franchise at this arena next season?
Photograph by: Manuel Palomino Arjona, via eventseeker.com
We've tracked the scuttlebutt about the Canucks's American Hockey League affiliate kerfuffle extensively over the past year - from the Abbotsford rumours, through to their somewhat messy divorce with the Wolves, to the club's purchase of the Peoria Rivermen franchise. When we last checked in on this developing story, the hottest gossip was that Vancouver may let their newly purchased AHL franchise go dormant for a year and scatter their prospects across a variety of north american minor leagues.
Well, thankfully, it now appears that the Canucks are zeroing in on a deal with "a specific city that hasn’t been concluded yet." So that's good news. We should hear more about the deal soon too according to Mike Gillis - who addressed the situation in an apperance on the Team1040 on Thursday - and told Matt Sekeres and Blake Price that, "Hopefully we’ll be ready to announce something by the middle of next week."
Read past the jump.
Here are Mike Gillis' comments from his Team 1040 appearance yesterday (you can listen to the General Manager's radio hit here, the below transcription is my own):
“We’re working on an arrangement with a specific city that hasn’t been concluded yet. We have a couple of other opportunities that have been put on hold because we want to pursue this one. Hopefully we’ll be ready to announce something by the middle of next week.
There’s been a lot of discussion about AHL expansion in the West which we’ve been part of. But it’s a little premature at this point. We’re looking at an opportunity we really like for development purposes, and travel purposes, so hopefully that’ll work out and we’ll have something to say next week.”
[On the prospect of shuttering the Rivermen franchise for a year]
“I don’t believe so but there’s always a chance that things can fall apart. But I don’t believe that will be the case, and it wouldn’t be our first choice by far.”
Unpacking Gillis' comments, it seems as if the Canucks are closing in on a deal with a specific unnamed city, but the deal isn't concluded yet and the organization is proceeding cautiously. The best news is that it doesn't sound as if Vancouver's newly acquired AHL team will "go dormant" this upcoming season after all, though of course "things can fall apart."
Reading between the lines a little bit further, I might suggest to you that Mike Gillis's comments can be read to imply that the organization's AHL affiliate will be placed on the East coast (if it's placed at all) at least for the short-term. After all, Gillis did describe AHL expansion in the West as "a little premature at this point."
Which brings us to the rumours about the Mohawk valley and Utica, New York. Is Utica - a city that has been "in" on pretty much every AHL affiliate rumour over the past two months - the unnamed "specific city" that the Canucks are close to cutting a deal with? We don't know for sure, but there's an increasing amount of smoke.
It started with a Ben Kuzma report a week ago, which we didn't pivot off at the time because it only quoted Scott Arniel on the record. Relying on unnamed sources, Kuzma reported that Utica was a "front runner" to land the Canucks's displaced Peoria franchise.
This week, the News1130 Twitter account (which admittedly has a bit of a mixed record on these sorts of things) passed along something similar:
Hearing the #Canucks deal for a farm team in Utica is 95% done - just some legalities left.— News1130 Sports (@News1130Sports) May 22, 2013
It's interesting, however, that the News 1130 report landed on Wednesday afternoon, because on Tuesday of this week the state government of New York approved two million dollars in funding to restore the Utica Memorial Auditorium (which locals apparently refer to as "the Aud"). That money will be in the 2013-14 state budget and presumably represents the sort of commitment that would make Utica a more attractive destination for the Canucks.
Actually it's not just a commitment that would make Utica a more attractive destination, it's a necessary commitment for the city to make if they want to attract AHL hockey. The Aud currently only seats 4000, so it's a small arena by AHL standards - even if the Abbotsford Heat couldn't fill it regularly - and falls short of some other minimum standards the league has for its buildings. Utica has a long and storied history of unsuccessful hockey franchises and an outdated arena in need of significant investment, but hell, it's better than going dormant (probably)...
Admittedly we don't know for sure that Utica is the "specific city" Mike Gillis was referring too. But it's worth noting that two Vancouver news outlets (the Province and News 1130) are reporting the city as a front runner, the mayor is certainly on board, and the city recently procured two million dollars in state funds to upgrade their hockey facility...
So professional hockey may return to the Mohawk Valley this fall, and it'll be interesting to see if it can actually succeed there.