ANAHEIM -- Winnipeg Jets chairman Mark Chipman says the Jets are in "very preliminary" discussions that could lead to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate moving from its present home in St. John’s, Nfld. to Thunder Bay Ontario as early as the 2016-17 season.
Here’s some of what Chipman had to say to Winnipeg reporters travelling today with the team in Anaheim, where the Jets will play the Ducks tonight:
"First and foremost, it’s really very preliminary. What we have accomplished is the right to negotiate with the City of Thunder Bay, a group that we’re a part of, towards the development of a new entertainment facility there. Our part in that would be the relocation of our American Hockey League team to Thunder Bay in the event that a)the project is successful and b)we get approval from the American Hockey League board of governors.
"We have an agreement with St. John’s for this year and all of next year. We’ve been, as you can imagine, in regular communication with our partners there... dating back to when we first entered into it. We were going to give the arrangement in St. John’s every chance of working and in many respects it has. It’s a phenomenal market. It’s arguably the best market in the American Hockey League in terms of revenue production. But we made it clear that if it became challenging from a geographical perspective that we might have to look elsewhere...
"And really that’s what’s driving this. It’s just really tricky, particularly now. If you can just imagine trying to get a guy from St. John’s to Anaheim today. It would be tricky. We experienced it last week trying to get (call up Carl) Klingberg out to Calgary and back. It’s tricky. I think (Jets GM) Kevin (Cheveldayoff) has been very consistent in saying how important the development process is for us. So really what this is is from a hockey operation standpoint to try and get our (farm) team closer to home. So that the travel burden is much less and frankly our organization can get in to see our players develop more frequently.
"Most optimistically (a move to Thunder Bay) would be the start of the 2016 season and maybe more likely the start of the 2017 season. There’s a lot of work to be done on this project.. It’s our initial step into the project. So my intuition is there’s a lot of work to do and a lot of uncertainty still. But it’s a step in the direction towards of possibility of us relocating to Thunder Bay Bay."
The news that the Jets could be moving their farm team first broke in Thunder Bay this morning and came as a bit of unwelcome distraction to a Jets organization that will be attempting tonight to do something no NHL team has yet done this seat -- beat the league-leading Anaheim Ducks in regulation.
The Ducks are 20-0-2 at the Honda Centre this season -- and are 10-0-0 most recently -- but Jets head coach Paul Maurice said today that he sees it all as an opportunity to do something no one else has for his team, who are 3-0-0 since Maurice took over behind the bench 10 days ago.
"Clearly they are a very powerful team, but I’d like to see that enthusiasm to come in here and be the first team to do it," Maurice told reporters after a quick morning skate. "You want that jump, that excitement for a big game...
"I’m interested to see how well we can sustain what we’re doing under some pretty heavy firepower," said Maurice. "A measuring stick maybe not in terms of who we are, but where we’re at."
Evander Kane, who missed four games with a deep cut on his hand, will make his return to the Jets lineup tonight playing on a line with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.
Chris Thorburn, who had been playing with Scheifele and Wheeler, drops back to the fourth line with Eric O’Dell and Anthony Peluso. The other two lines remain unchanged -- Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd, Michael Frolik and Olli Jokinen, Dustin Byfuglien and Devin Setoguchi.
The defensive pairings will be Zach Bogosian and Toby Enstrom, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart and Keaton Ellerby and Adam Pardy.
Ondrej Pavelec gets the start in net.
James Wright, Eric Tangradi and Zach Redmond look like they’ll be the scratches.