AHL president confident of hockey future for St. John’s

Kenn Oliver
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All-Star Classic fervor showcases value of city as an ‘attractive destination’

American Hockey League president Dave Andrews makes no secret that he’s is a big fan of
St. John’s.

AHL President Dave Andrews.

And he wants fans of the IceCaps to know hope is not lost in the search for a new franchise to play under the team’s colours.

“We’re doing everything we can,” Andrews says of efforts to help IceCaps president Danny Williams and chief operating officer Glenn Stanford find a replacement for the Winnipeg Jets, who’ve indicated they’ll move their AHL franchise from St. John’s, most likely after the 2014-15 season.

“Whether we can make it work or not, I can’t say. But I don’t think it’s hopeless.”

“I can’t predict the odds, but I know we’re going to leave no stone unturned in an attempt to find a solution.”

Andrews, in town for the league’s All-Star Classic, says from business perspective, the St. John’s hockey market, among the most successful in the league, is one of the best in North America and that the city is one other teams enjoy coming to.

“It’s a place where hockey matters. (It’s) a place that has supported the AHL faithfully for as long as I can remember and I was here for Game 1 at (Memorial) Stadium,” says Andrews, who was the general manager of the Cape Breton Oilers when the St. John’s Maple Leafs made their debut in 1991.

Unfortunately, it’s also a place that’s becoming too far-flung for National Hockey League franchises wanting their farmhands close at hand.

“In their view, the AHL is all about player development and they think there’s a better situation for them in terms of their ability to see their players, and to get their players to the parent club and to other cities in the NHL,” says Andrews.

“That’s what we faced with Toronto (who moved the AHL Leafs from here in 2005) and that’s what we’re facing again.”

“The challenge now is to be able to change the perception of NHL teams that this is a just too far away to be a good home for their AHL players.”

Aside from the geographical issues, the market for teams in a position of seeking to relocate is small.

Thirteen of the league’s 30 teams, including the IceCaps, are owned by NHL franchises, while the other 17 are independently owned and have affiliations with NHL clubs.

“It’s not an easy thing to relocate a team,” says Andrews. “Every NHL team has a location and a partner.”

Moreover, Andrews also hinted at “pressures in our league two years out” related to some west coast NHL clubs wanting their affiliates closer to home, as well as suitors from other cities interested in cashing in on the AHL’s success.

“I’m faced with an interesting challenge over the next little while of trying to meet the needs of our NHL partners and the needs of our league in terms of where we need to be and the kinds of buildings and markets we need to be in,” he says.

“We’re up against it, in many ways.”

But he did note that when it comes to an AHL-quality facility and viable, vibrant AHL market,

St. John’s is somewhere the league wanted to be.

It’s just a matter of getting an NHL team to agree.

And, limited though they may be, there may be opportunities.

Several NHL clubs — the Ottawa Senators, for example — have expiring contracts with their AHL affiliates.

And there is always the prospect of NHL expansion with any new big-league club needing a minor-league franchise.

But in most cases, overcoming the geographic challenge will be a big hurdle.

Andrews says the IceCaps’ efforts in hosting the All-Star event and putting its best face forward only helps to sell the city as a more attractive destination.

“(They) have been very progressive in thinking about hosting this event and what message that will send our board of governors and many of the NHL teams that are here as well,” he says, noting the involvement of the Swedish team Färjestad BK in the All-Star Classic has brought added exposure.

“It can’t help but get St. John’s out there a little more and show how much value we place in it as an AHL city by bringing the event here.”

For the time being, and until the IceCaps’ contract with the Jets’ expires, Andrews urges fans to keep doing what they’ve been doing.

“Celebrate what we have, while we have it and be confident we’re doing everything we can to find a solution.”

 

koliver@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @telykenn

Organizations: National Hockey League, IceCaps, Winnipeg Jets Maple Leafs AHL Leafs Ottawa Senators

Geographic location: North America, Toronto

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