Agreement between the Canucks, Utica approved but still shrouded in mystery

Here stands a relic, and the new AHL home of the Vancouver Canucks.

We didn’t comment on the AHL Board of Governors long anticipated approval of a deal to move the Canucks owned and operated AHL affiliate, formerly the Peoria Rivermen, to the Mohawk Valley yesterday. We avoided writing it about it then because, frankly, details about the deal were scant. They still are.

We’ve covered this story for months, doing our best to recap the public record and provide insight despite the information vacuum. It’s a vacuum we’re still dealing with, though we may get more answers today.

For now the deal remains shrouded in mystery. No one in the Vancouver Canucks front office has commented on the agreement as of yet, with Scott Arniel being the highest profile Vancouver Canucks employee to go on the record yesterday. There have been reports about a "one year deal" between the city and the Canucks, though AHL sources have indicated to me that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Also, and perhaps most importantly, there’s no firm indication as to whether or not the new Utica based AHL club will recieve any type of operating subsidy from the city or the region.

Read past the jump for more.

Public Funding

The early indications, and again we’ll know more later today, suggest that the Canucks will not be receiving an Abbotsford style golden parachutte to offset any losses that befall their American Hockey League in Utica next season. Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri suggested to Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province that, "no local money is going into the deal. The arena is a regional asset, not a city asset." If that’s a full answer, and not a lawyerly one, then the lack of any sort of public subsidy comes as a big surprise.

As Peoria Journal Star’s Dave Eminian pointed out yesterday "NHL and AHL sources have said for several weeks that Vancouver wanted a deal from Utica similar to what Calgary was getting at Abbotsford." After all, the club reportedly wanted roughly a million dollars from Peoria when they were discussing keeping the Rivermen in Illinois, ostensibly for dressing room upgrades. 

If the Canucks have really decided to go it alone, and will foot any losses in Utica without local government having public skin in the game, then good on them becasue it could be an expensive proposition. If the perpetually ugly financial situation in Abbotsford is any indication, next seasons losses could exceed seven figures.

Term of the Deal

No one seems to know at this point, how long the Canucks have agreed keep their AHL affiliate in Utica for.

Here’s Elliot Pap:

There was also speculation Thursday that the Canucks might only be in Utica for a short run and that they will continue to pursue the Abbotsford option, perhaps even swapping locations with the Flames down the road.

Here’s the News 1130 Sports Twitter feed:

And Jason Botchford:

The deal with Utica, approved in a vote Thursday by the AHL’s board of governors, is seen as a short-term stopgap until the Canucks can find a western-based home for their team.

Meanwhile the AHL wouldn’t even confirm that a deal between the Vancouver Canucks and the city of Utica, New York was even concluded yesterday.

What we know for now is that the Canucks will operate an AHL franchise in Utica, New York next season, and the organization will probably do so with only limited financial support from local government.

Local sources have suggested to me that Utica may have interest in a deal with an out after one year for their own reasons as well. So perhaps the Canucks will have options should they decide to look Westward next spring (to Abbotsford, or the lovely barn in Bakersfield, California). Ultimately that type of flexibility might be more valuable to the club than any sort of subsidy anyway…

  • Mantastic

    I am completely at a loss as to why the municipal government of a small town would ever subsidize a large company like this anyway. It doesn’t seem like AHL teams particularly make money, and I can’t believe that Comets games would exactly provide such a huge spillover boost to the local economy (and if so, how much of that is just getting offset anyway by way of the city’s agreement to pay the team)?

    Very curious why Abbotsford did what they did, although it is obviously a larger population base. But yeah, who is so desperate for a non-profit AHL team that they’re willing to eat the annual losses for it?