Blues to Cease Operation of AHL Affiliate, First Step Along the Path to a Canucks Owned AHL Team in Abbotsford?

Some interesting news today that may (or may not) be related to the whole "Canucks might purchase an AHL affiliate and move it to the Fraser Valley" story that we’ve watched closely over the past seven months. According to WMBD (an Illinois based CBS affiliate) the St. Louis Blues have reportedly informed the Peoria Civic Center in writing that "the Blues will cease to operate professional hockey after this season." Tom Eminian of the Peoria Junior Star has since corroborated that report.

Read past the jump.

So what does this have to do with the Canucks? Well you might remember that Tom Mayenknecht reported a couple of weeks back that the Canucks might purchase the Peoria Rivermen from the Blues and move them to the Fraser Valley. Mayenknecht’s report suggested that the Blues would then take on Vancouver’s current AHL affiliate – the Chicago Wolves – with Calgary moving their current AHL affiliate (the money losing Abbotsford Heat) elsewhere, possibly Utica.

Blues owner Tom Stillman acquired the Peoria Rivermen a year ago as part of his purchase of the St. Louis Blues. The recent chatter and speculation contended that he wasn’t too eager to continue footing the bill for his club’s AHL affilliate, and today’s developments would suggest that chatter was accurate. If Stillman is primarily interested in minimizing the cost of running a Blues farm team, that would make him an ideal fit for a partnership with the Chicago Wolves. The Wolves are owned by Don Levin, a businessman who takes his ownership of the Wolves very seriously indeed and rather obviously hopes to one day own an NHL club.

Now whether or not the Canucks do indeed step into the breach and buy the Peoria Rivermen from Tom Stillman remains an open question. Today’s developments probably don’t happen without Stillman having a plan in place for the eventual sale of the Rivermen, but that doesn’t shed any light on Vancouver’s plans.

Harrison Mooney theorized a couple of weeks ago that it would make more sense for the Canucks to buy the Heat from the Flames directly. That strikes me as compelling, especially since the Aquilini group would likely have to induce the Flames to leave their sweetheart lease deal with Abbotsford and locate their AHL affiliate further away from Calgary geographically. In that scenario the Flames would then turn around and purchase the Rivermen from Stillman. That theory makes more sense to me than the mechanics Mayenknecht laid out in his Twitter report, but who really knows?

The Canucks continue to play this one close to the vest, and there are still more dominos left to fall before a Canucks affiliated AHL club in the Fraser Valley becomes a reality. This could be a pretty major step along that path, certainly there’s a lot of smoke even if no one is yelling "fire" just yet, or it also could have nothing to do with the Canucks at all. Time will tell.