The Winnipeg Jets have put off a decision on a permanent solution for their farm team and granted the St. John’s IceCaps another one-year extension to their affiliation agreement.
The Jets will keep their top pro prospects in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital through the end of the 2015-16 season, the NHL team announced this morning.
The original deal when the AHL’s Manitoba Moose moved to St. John’s in 2011 — after the NHL relocated the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg to become the Jets — was for three years. True North, which owns both the NHL and AHL franchises, added a one-year extension to that deal, which was to expire at the end of this coming season.
True North said last winter it would be ending its deal in St. John’s because of the trouble experienced with the geography of the relationship and that it was interested in becoming a main tenant in a proposed new arena in Thunder Bay, Ont.
That made plenty of sense since it would put the Jets’ top affiliate within driving distance and direct flights out of the Manitoba capital. Generally, it would make the shuttling of players up and down much easier, as well as making it easier for Jets’ management and scouts to keep a close eye on the team’s prospects.
But the Thunder Bay project is not underway and is unlikely to be complete until the start of the 2017-18 hockey season at best. Financing and other negotiations are still not locked down for the proposed 5,700-seat downtown facility that is expected to cost $106 million.
True North said it would not be putting any cash in that deal, but would commit its AHL team as a tenant. It’s unknown if today’s announcement has changed the status of that intention.
Between the situation in Thunder Bay and the Jets’ stated intention to move its AHL team closer to home, speculation had escalated that the Manitoba Moose would be reborn next fall and that the MTS Centre would be, at the very least, the temporary home for the Jets’ AHL team.
The Moose existed in Winnipeg between 1996 and the 2011 relocation. The team was a member of the AHL from 2001 until its move to St. John’s.
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.
The extension in St. John’s will do two things for the Jets.
In the short term, it will give a boost to the AHL organization there, whose ticket sales were lagging with the reality of the team’s departure at the end of the season coming closer. Every AHL regular-season and playoff game at Mile One Centre, the team’s home, has been sold out since the Jets moved the franchise there.
The other matter for the Jets is it will let them see how things are going to shake out with the expected shift of several AHL franchises for the 2015-16 season. No agreement has been finalized, but a move is underway by west-coast-based NHL clubs to have their affiliates near the west coast and as many as six teams could be playing in an AHL Pacific division by next fall.
Work continues on the concept and AHL president and CEO Dave Andrews has confirmed that a "framework" is in place for the idea.
The Los Angeles Kings, for example, are believed to be strongly in favour of moving their affiliate from Manchester, N.H., to Ontario, Calif.
That overall scenario is likely to leave several current AHL markets/cities without teams in a year’s time.