As was reported last weekend, the AHL approved the move of the St. John’s IceCaps to Winnipeg and the Hamilton Bulldogs to St. John’s for the 2015-16 season. This will put two teams in Winnipeg in the AHL and NHL, it will allow St. John’s to keep a team, albeit a different affiliation, but it will leave Hamilton without a team….temporarily.
In the short term, it helps Winnipeg out a lot when it comes to travel costs for the team up and down the roads of the AHL, as well as when it comes to recalls and demotions. Luckily, the owners of the Jets– True North Sports and Entertainment– also own the IceCaps for all intents and purposes and can make this move. Yet, the big issues is to wonder if and when the Jets will be able to move their affiliation into Thunder Bay, Ontario– a project that was supposed to be done in time for the 2017-18 season. However, due to delays and other issues; the arena could be in threat of being delayed longer or maybe indefinitely. What will happen to the Winnipeg AHL team then?? Well, other markets outside of Thunder Bay had been bandied about; one being Fargo, North Dakota– though the USHL Fargo Force may have some say about that; the other being Kansas City– who has a huge arena going unused in the middle of downtown.
For Montreal, the move does take the distance a bit further, but the Canadiens are a team that could very well afford the travel and all of that and not worry about budget or finances too, too much. More over, the branding is something that helps the Canadiens in this case. This move will get them out of the Maple Leaf-centric area of Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area and put them further east into a market that seems to be pretty mixed when it comes to who they root for. By expanding that brand, the Habs can have their fandom grow. While there are only two direct flights out of St. John’s to Montreal (via Air Canada’s website), it is in enough time for someone to be called up in the morning and get to the rink for that night’s game by 4:30 PM ET.
Also, for St. John’s, it bides them more time to find a more permanent partner for their arena. As I’ll explain later, Laval could probably be the end point for the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate once that arena is done, but for this— it will now ease the year-to-year grind that Newfoundland and Labrador Premier (as well as lease holder of the IceCaps) Danny Williams would have to deal with wondering whether or not the Jets will pull out of the city at a moments notice or not, leases be damned.
Luckily for the Hamilton area, it seems that hockey will be back in the FirstOntario Centre in no time as the Bulldogs’ owner– Michael Andlauer— appears to have bought the Belleville Bulls in the OHL and will move them to Hamilton for the 2015-16 season.
For the Laval area, they thought that the new arena would be perfect for the Bulldogs to move to in order to be really close to the Canadiens and expand the brand in Quebec. Granted, that still could happen, as St. John’s looks to be just be a short-term landing point for the Habs’ AHL team until the arena is built. But then again, who knows what’s going to happen with that arena and if the Canadiens will enjoy their time with St. John’s more and more considering that they would be the only game in town and would have a lot of support from the government to keep them afloat in possible lean times.
In the short term, this helps out the Jets emencly and allows them to bide time as the whole situation in Thunder Bay gets figured out. Other than that– it’s business as usual in the minor league hockey silly season.