THE AHL's Manitoba Moose will be changing cities but it's business as usual, Craig Heisinger, the team's GM, said today.
"Of course we've been talking to our players (about next season)," Heisinger said Tuesday, asked about what will become the new farm team of Winnipeg's 2011-12 NHL entry.
Though most of the young players who played for the AHL team here this past season were under contract to the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, the team included several free agent players like centre Marco Rosa, defenceman Travis Ramsey and forwards like Kevin Clark and Shawn Weller.
Those players can be re-signed by the Moose before July 1 free agency.
The team's new home is expected to be St. John's, N.L., but that arrangement is not yet complete.
True North Sports & Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman said it's unlikely his group will sell the Moose AHL franchise. Rather, it will retain ownership of the team in the AHL and control its hockey department and simply enter into a business arrangement with a group in another city to run the rest of the operation.
"St. John's is absolutely an option," Chipman said. "That's a fantastic hockey market."
There have been some wrinkles to completing the arrangement in St. John's and if that possible deal falls through, then it's most likely the AHL franchise would go dark for a year.
It's certain the new AHL Moose, or whatever they are called, will have a new coach.
Current Moose coach Claude Noel still has two years left on his contract with the Canucks.
The departure of the Manitoba Moose from the AHL leaves AHL president David Andrews with just another challenge as he tries to put his league and the 30 affiliations with NHL teams together for next season.
Atlanta's affiliation with Chicago will end, as will Vancouver's with Manitoba. Buffalo is also known to be trying to buy the Rochester Americans.
"We were aware probably a year ago and prepared contingency plans about what our league would look like if Winnipeg were no longer in it," Andrews told the Free Press on Tuesday. "Within a week to 10 days, we'll know if Manitoba's AHL franchise will either suspend for a year or have a new home.
"I'm optimistic it will all land in the right place."
Andrews said he was thrilled for Winnipeg fans and for True North chairman Mark Chipman.
"We're very proud of the fact they've been part of the league for 10 years," Andrews said. "They've done such great things in marketing, building the brand, developing players, being in the community. We've used them as a standard with a lot of our other clubs.
"Once the building went up (in Winnipeg), it was pretty clear their objective was to get to the NHL when the opportunity presented itself.
"But Mark has never ever treated the AHL as less important than getting to the NHL. He's been a great partner, a first-class owner. Class is probably not a good enough term.
I consider him to be a very good friend and I'm very happy he's still going to be an owner in the AHL."