Are The Wolf Pack On The Move??

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While the going away parties for the Albany and St. John’s hockey community in the AHL, thought both of them could be making the playoffs, there’s one area where not much news about the AHL coming back in 2017-18 and that’s Hartford.

In the middle of last season, the Wolf Pack and the XL Center announced a lease extension for 2016-17, which was the first of two possible option years from the previous agreement. There has not been much news about talks or anything in regards to the lease agreement coming forth in the 2017-18 season for the Wolf Pack.

There’s a reason to wonder if Hartford would be back in the AHL, especially with the push that is on to bring the New York Islanders to the XL Center and the possibility of huge upgrades needed in order to get the Isles into the old arena. Should XL Center be serious about it and the Isles take them up on that offer, obviously the Wolf Pack would be out. Yet, the Wolf Pack has been discussed in shuffling, too– with rumors of the Rangers moving their AHL affiliate to Bridgeport after the Islanders moving out their affiliate to the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum (though that has been denied by the Sound Tigers’ president).

(NOTE: Emails to the XL Center and Wolf Pack have not been replied to as of the time of this writing. This post will be updated if/when they are replied to) 

It has been a rough past couple of years for the Wolf Pack on the ice, as they are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. Yet, in the only time they’ve made the playoffs, they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals– which they were swept by eventual champion Manchester. This season will also be the first time the Wolf Pack will not reach the 30-win plateau and not reaching the .500 mark since moving to Hartford in 1997. There has been some identity crisis with the Connecticut Whale being a thing from 2010 until 2013, they still had competitive teams– especially considering they’ve always been over-.500 until this year.

Though Nicklas Jensen has been leading the way on offense with Matt Carey as his secondary scorer (and only two with 20+ goals) as Taylor Beck is shuttled up and down to the Rangers, the defense has been pretty horrific. The goaltending has been a big let-down, with Magnus Hellberg ranked 31st in GAA…and he got called up for the Rangers’ playoffs. Rookie Brandon Halverson is ranked 45th out of 46 goalies qualified in the AHL in GAA. The loss of Mat Bodie to the NHL has been a huge hit to not only the defense, but as the captain of the Wolf Pack– it took away an important voice in the room for the young team. Chris Summers is the only defenseman who has played over 30 games and has a plus/minus under double-digits for that blue line. Much is needed for this team going forward– whether it’s in Hartford or otherwise.

Attendance hasn’t been a big drop-off by Wolf Pack standards as they are around 4,200 a game and last season they were around 4,400– so the losing has hit them a bit, but not enough to say losing is the reason for a box-office problem.

If nothing else, should the Wolf Pack move, it wouldn’t be the first time in this team’s lineage. They are considered the oldest continuous AHL team despite the Wolf Pack not recognizing the past. This team started in Providence as the Reds in 1926 until 1976, then moved to Binghamton from 1977 until 1997 when they moved to Hartford. Where they land next is anyone’s guess, but wherever that is– that’s some useless info to carry with you despite not recognizing it in the rafters or record books.

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First Month in the Sin Bin

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So, it’s been a month since I joined TheSinBin.net and it’s been pretty solid overall. Here’s what you may have been missing if you haven’t checked it out yet.

-The Stockton Heat not only are going through a change on the ice in their league play, but also off the ice in renovations to get the Stockton Arena up to AHL caliber.

-The AHL schedule was announced and boy howdy, it’s as bad as you think it was and it will cause a plenty of confusion with math and stuff to determine the playoffs.

-With the possibility of expansion in the NHL, it means the AHL and ECHL will need expansion as well to have a “One Team, One Affiliation” gimmick going. Hat Trick Consultants are looking at different markets to see what is actually viable.

-And, it’s two weeks– so the podcast is up and going.

It’s been a great time and the people there have been super supportive and we’ve been noticed– with is the main goal. Hope you keep coming along for the journey.

Report: Sabres Float Idea of Amerks in Buffalo

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Is the loss of money due to whatever reason enough to have one of the oldest markets in the AHL to be removed??

There are some hints that– maybe, that could be the case. The Buffalo Sabres have seemingly asked the city of Rochester if they could move some games of the Rochester Americans to Buffalo. During lease negotiations with the team and the SMG Management (the managers of the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester), the Sabres floated an idea for the Amerks to play some games in Buffalo— but it wouldn’t happen until after the 2015-16 season. The Buffalo Sun Times believes that the AHL would not block the Sabres from moving “a large portion” of the Amerks home games to Buffalo’s First Niagara Center.

What this comes down to is the arena, which has been there since 1955, is in need of some renovations. The Sabres are looking to upgrade the boxes and suites, while the city itself is floating the idea of putting a new restaurant and marquee outside of the arena. The city itself has subsidized some money towards the possible $39M upgrade.

Another factor could be the fact that the Sabres and the city want to have a long-term lease agreement with the Blue Cross Arena to keep the Amerks right where they are, but it seems that the arena owner has only been providing year-to-year agreements– which creates the obvious thoughts of doubt for the future planning of the Amerks future and future of hockey in the city. With reports that all three entities in this– the Sabres, the city, and SMG Management– have all been losing money; it is something that could very well bring about many rumors in regards to the future of the team in the city.

For all of this news, what will be really interesting to see is what the Sabres will observe in Winnipeg and San Jose, also, With both of those teams sharing an arena with their AHL affiliate; the Sabres will most likely keep a close eye out and be in contact with those organizations to make sure that it’s a viable option to house two teams in an arena, while giving up on dates to other performers and live events.

As the second oldest city in the AHL, Rochester has been a part of the league since 1956 and has been one of the more successful franchises when it comes to attendance in the league. For obvious reasons, you would think that the league and Dave Andrews would do all they can in order to work with the city, team, and arena to keep the team in that area; which has been boosted with the success of the Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets to create a viable AHL presence in the upstate New York area. That’s not to say that Rochester would be dark for too long. Just because the Sabres aren’t there doesn’t mean that Rochester won’t have AHL hockey– it has happened before from 2008-2011 due to financial insecurities in the area; but of course– the two are back together, though it seems that some of the same problems may have cropped up yet again.

Despite it’s history and, I’m sure, the league’s willingness to do something in order to keep the Amerks name alive and well in that area– there’s a time where the owners and city have lost too much money in this economy and landscape to take the hit anymore, even if they romanticize the team as much as they do. Granted, the trip of AHL to Buffalo could be temporary just to allow the renovations to happen to the Blue Cross Arena. It’s not as if the team would be playing games completely out of the way– with Buffalo being only a hour and fifteen minutes away from Rochester– but still, the greater worry is that the games in Buffalo are a success and owner Terry Pegula, despite being a lover of heritage, sees a move to Buffalo for the AHL would be much more cost effective and profitable than to keep the team in Rochester and deal with uncertainty with the lease of the arena.

For all involved, you hope something like this gets resolved and sorted out. Yet in the business of sports today; nothing is ever guaranteed to stay for long– even with the history it has.

Markets In The Market For Minor League Hockey

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During the podcast, I had mentioned that Biloxi, Mississippi and the people of Southern Mississippi Hockey LLC missed the deadline to get an expansion team into the SPHL for the 2015-16 season. While that might be a good thing in terms of not having to throw together an entire franchise in a limited amount of time– it does bring up the question of what areas could be prime for expansion.

There are some issues with it comes to that, though. The AHL pretty much as their affiliates set, baring a western expansion in the 2016-17 season, though it seems that most teams have multi-year deals locked up already. The ECHL has mentioned they want to cap their membership at 30 teams, and with Worcester and Oklahoma City out there for the picking– you have to think they will be next and last for the ECHL. The SPHL would need either a link that wouldn’t be too far from Peoria or the rest of the membership– but odds are those would be few and far between.

All that aside– let’s speculate for some place; Worcester and OKC aside.

When the CHL was still a thing, there was a possible chance for Casper, Wyoming to join that league– at least they had thought. The Casper Event Center put in an ice floor for the possibility to lure a team out there. While it would be a great place for the ECHL to put a team to have a better representation and better link to the western US; the odds of them putting a team or have the appeal for the ECHL is very slim with better, more established markets out there. It would probably be more likely to have a NAHL or NA3HL team in the US Junior system to be there.

An old market that could creep it’s way into an expansion role could be Atlantic City. They had the ECHL’s Boardwalk Bullies for four seasons and have hosted games for the Albany Devils in the past years with some very solid turn outs at the Boardwalk Hall. Of course, they could very well be a relocation destination over expansion.

Reno, Nevada has been on the “Future Markets” of the ECHL website for years now and there has been no movement one way or another from them to actually make a move. You’d have to think that their fate would be dependent on getting an owner who is serious about putting a team there and if Las Vegas gets a NHL team in their future.

Now, I said I wouldn’t talk about Worcester….but I kind of fibbed. It seems that my home state of Maryland and the County of Worcester is looking into building an arena to bring a minor league team there. Hat Trick Consulting have said it would be a great place to have a team and a new arena, which is usually mostly known for summer vacation. They have proposed a 6,200-seat arena and the thought is to bring in an ECHL team, but will most likely fit with the SPHL more likely– but both would be hard sells. The ECHL is very limited in teams, despite having Norfolk and the Pennsylvania teams not too far by. That is, of course, if the Maryland Stadium Authority says it’s a viable idea.

You would also have to think that if Maryland would get a team, Richmond, Virginia would be looking to get a spot because they would be close compatriots. Richmond hasn’t really given a hint of coming back into the minor league circle after the Richmond Renegades of the SPHL ceased operations in 2009. Granted, Richmond has had a strong minor league showing in the past; but that’s not to say that people will remember those times or actually want to have hockey back that’s isn’t of the ECHL variety they had from 1990 until 2003. The same could be said about the market in Roanoke, Virginia; who last had a team in the United Hockey League in 2004-05, but couldn’t draw the same numbers as their ECHL predecessors in the Roanoke Express. However, if Richmond could get something going; you can bet that Roanoke– their fiercest rivals– would want to be right there with them to try and rekindle not only a solid minor league turf war– but also revitalize pro hockey in Virginia.

When all is said and done, this is just spitballing ideas about what possible leagues could do. With the leagues being as handcuffed as they are when it comes to actually going through with expansions really hinders any kind of process, but it’s something that could spark what little debate there is to be had. For all intents and purposes, these markets would most likely be a relocation scenario over expansion. Not only that, but when you look at some of the areas mentioned– it could be up to the SPHL to actually take the reigns in terms of finding markets to be able to grown their brand a bit more.

Fare Thee Well, Worcester and Oklahoma City…

Though they never faced off head-to-head, the Worcester Sharks and Oklahoma City Barons are going to be linked in this unfortunate incident. As there are many changes in the AHL, mostly with teams moving out west– there are a lot of moving parts for the markets that the AHL is abandoning. Granted, for the majority of the markets, they will go to the ECHL; but for Worcester and Oklahoma City, they will be silent for all intents and purposes for at least next season. Neither team will be replaced by an ECHL team for next season (as far as we know) and for two cities that have an extensive minor league history– though there are pauses in when teams came in went.

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For Worcester, the Sharks took over in the 2006-07 season; moving from Cleveland, a full year after the IceCats moved to Peoria to become the AHL Rivermen. While the IceCats saw declining attendance, which may have led to their demise, the Sharks were a bit more consistent; even though they never averaged above 4,602 in a season to the IceCats peak of 6,800 in 1996-97. It’s very possible that it was a middling attendance due to the Sharks missing the playoffs five of the nine seasons they were in Worcester. That said, they had a lot of prospects come through the DCU Center doors and move up to the NHL like Thomas Greiss, Tommy Wingels, Jonathan Cheechoo, Justin Braun, and Logan Couture to name a few who spend a decent amount of time in Worcester and made it as regulars in the NHL. With a bulk of the teams in the Northeast still, the Worcester area seems like a solid destination, even though it could be trouble in getting a proper deal to run out of the DCU Center. The questions for that is whether or not there will be some kind of connections to the people. For the IceCats, the Blues were at least somewhat closer for fans to track once they left– the Sharks were across the country and three time zones away. Not saying that was why the fans couldn’t relate or connect– because the team wasn’t the best at times; but it could be a reason why many didn’t pay mind to the newest tenant in the Worcester hockey landscape.

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In Oklahoma City, it’s a market that the AHL was unfamiliar with, but with the success of the Oklahoma City Blazers in the Central Hockey League, it was a tough act to follow for the Barons; who, like the Sharks, came in a year after the previous team had left/disbanded. While the heyday may have been over for the Blazers, the legacy of two CHL championships in the modern incarnation of the league is something that fans would remember, not to mention the fans turning out in droves each year– only the first and last seasons dipping under the 8,000 per game average mark and two seasons of over 10,000 per home game. Whether it be just the disgust of not being able to work something out with the Blazers or just many more options in entertainment with the NBA’s Thunder coming into town and other thing popping up in OKC; the Barons couldn’t connect that well with the general public; peaking at only 4,155 in their first year in OKC for average attendance. Even in the lockout shortened NHL season which saw Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins suiting up for the team. Despite having their own stalwarts of Brad Hunt, Anton Lander, and Oscar Klefbom— there didn’t seem to be much connection outside of the die-hards for the Barons.

But would you consider these markets any kind of failure in terms of hockey?? For Worcester– most likely you can chalk up the fans not caring to the lack of winning and lack of action the team was able to provide. When you only make the playoff four times in the nine year term and only once in the last five years– that’s something that won’t make people run to the box office. In OKC, the bitterness of the Blazers leaving could be a thing that left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans there. While I don’t know the demographics and I’m sure someone much closer to the situation than I may attest, it just seemed that with the inclusion of a pro sports team in the NBA and the heritage of the Blazers falling by the wayside; the people didn’t seem as apt to want to go to hockey games over anything else out there.

That all said, these areas could be very viable markets in the future; with OKC being the front runner. With the ECHL being in the central part of the US, it could very well make them a possibility for expansion next season if something doesn’t develop at the 11th hour (which is something that is past from my sources). The Prodigal LLC group seems very eager to have hockey in OKC and under the right conditions could make it successful. There’s a solid fan base there and getting back into a league with instilled geographical rivalries like the Wichita Thunder and Tulsa Oilers; it wouldn’t make sense to leave that market dormant for too long.

Worcester could be more of a harder sell. While they are in prime area for travel in the AHL corridor; many of the teams that want that close distance already have it, especially with all the NHL squad in close distance already having established AHL teams. The ECHL could be a destination, but Elmira and Reading would be the closest teams– which would be a big haul regardless (Thanks to Shane for pointing out that Manchester and Adirondack would be in the ECHL and closer than Elmira).Not only that, but finding ownership to put a team back in the area could cause some concern as well.

Overall, you have to hate it for the dedicated fan bases in each area. While sports are a business, the people do suffer when things move away; even if for a year. In both these markets, it was only a year buffer; but it seemed like they couldn’t recover all that well– circumstances being a player in that equation, too. That said, with the right management groups and the right location, these markets could thrive whether it be in the same league or in the ECHL– which still has two expansion sites available before they cap out at their 30-team limit.

Welcome Back, Manitoba Moose

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After much speculation, the word finally came that the Winnpeg Jets, who are moving their AHL team from St. John’s to Winnipeg, will revitalize the Manitoba Moose. That news was released in the press conference today. The logo is that of the old incarnation of the Moose, but will be in the double-blue that the Jets have, with the jersey being the Jets template and the Moose logo.

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“We wouldn’t be in the NHL today if not for the 15 years that the Manitoba Moose had in the AHL,” said Mark Chipman, CEO of True North Sports and Entertainment. “We’re bringing the players we’re developing closer to the fans. We’re going to be building the development closer to (the Jets), which is what the AHL is all about.”

That history started in the IHL, where the Moose moved from Minnesota to Manitoba after a year. It’s a place where Randy Carlyle started off as a coach and moved the Moose to four IHL Playoff appearances before they merged into the AHL with a couple other IHL teams. From the 2001-02 season until their departure in the 2010-11 season, the Moose only missed the playoff once, they went to the Calder Cup Finals (but lost) in 2009, as well as moving past the first round in six of the nine appearances.

“We took a long look at a number of markets. When looking, we knew that Winnipeg was the best place for this,” said Dan Hirsch, who will oversee the business side of the Moose operations. “It will provide increased access to professional hockey for Manitobans.”

As of this writing, Hirsch did not go into detail about what markets were being looked at outside of Winnipeg, but it will be updated below if anything comes out.

Obviously the question of how long the Moose will be in Winnipeg is always up for debate. You can be assured that there will probably be a couple of conflicts when it comes to use of the MTS Centre and what dates will go to whom. That’s even something that the Moose addressed on their FAQ’s page, where it states:

Our goal is for the Manitoba Moose to stay in Winnipeg for the long term. This team represents our future; the players will live and work in Winnipeg and will take a role in our community. The long term viability of the franchise in this marketplace will be determined through a number of factors, not the least of which will include strong support from our community.

Therefore, it’s pretty crucial for people to go ahead and buy tickets, which is what the team also laid out in the press conference, much to my and many other’s chagrin. That said, it’s obvious very crucial for the Moose to be a success, especially since the MTS Centre will undoubtedly be losing concert and event dates due to housing two teams in that arena and making sure that it will fit at least 79 dates (41 for NHL, 38 for AHL, not including playoffs).

It’s a great thing for the Moose to be back, but it’ll be even better if it is a successful venture and one that the fans will come out and get themselves a little more exposure to the Jets’ prospects. Plus, you would have to think that the Jets will do what the San Jose Sharks and Barracuda are doing and look at the options of double-headers to give the fans the most bang for the buck.

Thunder Bay Event Centre Scrapped; Where True North Looks Next

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It was learned yesterday by the federal government that the Thunder Bay Event Centre will not be eligible for federal funding, thus scrapping the entire plan altogether. Of course, you can look at the politics of this from the city council being skeptical of the viability of the new arena and how profitable will be– but that is all eased over for now.

For a hockey sense, the main issue this brings up is that it could throw a little bit of a wrench in the plans the Winnipeg Jets may have to place their AHL team in Thunder Bay after the arena was built. Currently, the Jets have moved their AHL team with them into the MTS Centre in the hopes that after a couple years– they could move out to Thunder Bay.

With that plan pretty much out the window, the question is what the Jets will do now with their AHL team; as the idea of holding 41 NHL dates and 36 AHL dates holding up the MTS Centre (not to mention playoffs) may not be the best business wise for True North Sports and Entertainment, as they would probably want other big-time events to come into the arena to play their shows.

Back when the Jets extended their affiliation with the St. John’s Ice Caps, the Winnipeg Free Press had the other options about what the Jets could do when it comes to moving their AHL team closer if Thunder Bay didn’t work out.

True North has said Winnipeg could be an option for the AHL team, at least temporarily in the future, but made no promises further than it was being considered.

Other options beyond Thunder Bay were being explored — some said Fargo and Kansas City were among them — but no apparent or obvious solution has been found.

With Fargo, it is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Fargo to Winnipeg. The Scheels Arena in Fargo is home to the Fargo Force in the USHL and has a capacity of 6,000. The Force are third in the USHL attendance this season (3,521) and have averaged over 3,500 in the past five seasons. It is easy to get to around the Fargo area and has a professional feel already for a USHL team. Yet, the big question is whether or not it would be viable to give up the Fargo Force, which has low overhead for a junior hockey team– and step up to the plate for an AHL team that could need a heck of a lot more resources in that arena to fulfil the need.

The other option in Kansas City is interesting. The Sprint Center has been standing since 2007 without a primary tenant, even though planners have talked to the NHL and NBA about relocation. One hold-up could be the fact that the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) owns the building and also own the LA Kings. I doubt that the Jets would want to pay the LA Kings ownership group more money in order to house their team in the Sprint Center. It could also be too big for hockey (capacity 17,544), especially when there’s an established ECHL team in the Missouri Mavericks playing 10 miles east.

Of course, there’s always the option of other markets becoming open that are near Winnipeg and some others who may work hard on actually getting something together thanks to Thunder Bay not being in the picture anymore. Not only that, True North could also hold steadfast and think they can deal with two teams in the same arena and be successful. There’s at least two years to figure it out (maybe more or even less), but True North will have to look at all the options to not only have this team be successful, but also close-by for call-ups and the like.