Canucks Have Acquired the Rivermen (Updated)

The Chicago Wolves and the Peoria Rivermen could be involved in an AHL affiliate mega trade in short order.

Over the weekend we pivoted off of a report from former USA Today writer Andy Strickland, which stated that the Canucks had all but finalized their rumoured purchase of the Peoria Rivermen from Tom Stillman and the St. Blues. According to a more recent Ed Willes report in the Vancouver Province, however, it appears that Strickland and his "multiple sources" may have got it wrong.

Reading between the lines of Willes’ report, actually, there seems to something altogether more complicated afoot. And we’ll get to it after the jump.

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Here’s the meat of Willes’ report, which we got from but urge you to go read in full over at the Province site:

The Canucks are trying to conclude a three-way deal in which they’d take over the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen and move them to Abbotsford under their affiliation while the Calgary Flames, who are currently operating the Abbotsford Heat, move to Utica, N.Y. The St. Louis Blues, who are currently affiliated with Peoria, would take over the Canucks’ AHL franchise in Chicago.

The Canucks are hoping to complete a three-way AHL swap for the Chicago Wolves farm team that would bring the franchise to nearby Abbotsford.

A couple of sites have reported the deal has been completed, but Canucks sources say that’s not the case. What is known is the Canucks, as they’ve stated repeatedly, would like to move to Abbotsford and operate their own farm team with a greater degree of independence, something they haven’t been able to do in Chicago…

…The Canucks will argue an affiliation with their team would make the Abbotsford franchise more profitable and reduce the city’s exposure.

Those are four short paragraphs, but there’s a lot of information there.

That the Canucks are repudiating the notion that they’ve already acquired the Peoria Rivermen – who even a child could tell are almost certainly for sale, and who recently informed their home arena that they will cease operations next season – is critical information. But it’s not the most important part of Willes’ report for our purposes, rather the most important line in is when Willes mentions that the "Canucks are trying to conclude a three-way deal," with both the Heat and the Blues, instead of a more direct purchase of the Peoria Rivermen. 

That makes all the sense in the world. As anyone with even the most elementary understanding of the mechanics at play can infer, the Flames will have to be compensated somehow if they’re going to move their AHL affiliate further away from Calgary and assume more of the risk in its operation. From a Canucks perspective, it obviously makes more sense to include that compensation in a straight forward "purchase" of the Heat, rather than some sort of additional buyout agreement.

In our coverage of this developments – which are occuring well outside of the public’s purview for the most part – we’d been stuck between evaluating whether the Mayenknecht model (that the Canucks would purchase the Rivermen and that the Flames would move the Heat) or the Mooney model (that the Canucks would purchase the Heat, and the Flames would turn around and buy the Rivermen) was more convincing. Willes’ report suggests that neither model has it quite right, and that if it can all be ironed out, ideally this agreement will actually be just one transaction concluded between three distinct parties.

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Willes’ report goes on to suggest that the Chicago Wolves’ notorious independent streak has played something of a role in Vancouver’s decision making on this front. That’s not a surprise – not with a rather large handful of Canucks prospects (Wesley Myron, Alexandre Mallet, Alex Grenier, Yann Sauve) skating in the ECHL, while guys on AHL contracts like Mark Matheson and Mike Davies soak up huge minutes in Chicago – but it’s interesting enough for us to single out and note.

Finally, Willes caps his report with a fascinating line: "the Canucks will argue an affiliation with their team would make the Abbotsford franchise more profitable and reduce the city’s exposure". If you go read our breakdown of Strickland’s report, we mostly used it as a launching pad to discuss whether or not talks between the Flames and the Canucks regarding their AHL affiliates had actually fallen apart (as both Andy Strickland and St. Louis Blues COO Bruce Affleck have suggested over the past ten days).

The reason for our focus there is that if the Canucks had bought the Rivermen – as Strickland reported and which Willes’ report has now cast doubt on – it would be a clear cut sign that the Canucks were willing to play some serious hardball with the Flames on the Abbotsford front. Willes’ report however, suggests that the Canucks and Flames are still working towards cutting a deal. That last line implies that the Canucks are still prepared to play some hardball here, even if they haven’t quite yet decided to really turn the screws by acquiring a different AHL franchise outright. 

I’d expect both sides to continue to play this particular negotiation close to the vest. There is, after all, millions of dollars in taxpayer funds annually on the table here, and I’d wager that neither side wants to be seen as using that as a poker chip one way or the other. Though of course, that’s precisely what it is.

Editors note: I’d mention that when we’re following a story such as this one, we’re not doing any original reporting. We’re not accredited by the team even though we do look to provide our readers with hard coverage wherever possilbe (usually of prospects).  Mostly we concentrate on scrutizining and relentlessly summarizing the public record and Strickland is a plugged in enough source of information in St. Louis that we felt comfortable jumping on his report. 

So it’s not our reporting that was inaccurate (and I suppose we don’t really know for sure that Strickland’s report is inaccurate either yet, though we now suspect it is). Either way I think we contextualized Strickland’s information appropriately in our previous post on this subject. When you’re blogging in real-time without credentials, sometimes you’re going to pivot off of incorrect information. When that happens, even if you provided the proper context, it’s critical to just be open about it and update the record. I hope we’ve done that here.

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Read Ed Willes’ report in full here.


Per the Canucks themselves, the team has bought the Peoria Rivermen from Tom Stillman and the St. Louis Blues:

And so the staring contest between the Flames and the Canucks officially begins.

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