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AHL would give fans a look at Jets' future

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/3/2015 (1346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IF the planned vote of AHL governors Thursday approves the transfers of the St. John's IceCaps to Winnipeg (as requested by the Winnipeg Jets) and the Hamilton Bulldogs to St. John's, N.L., (as requested by the Montreal Canadiens), the wheels will go quickly into motion for plans for the 2015-16 season.

There won't be much disruption of business in St. John's, though it will be causing some hockey personnel to relocate.

The move back to Winnipeg for the Jets' AHL franchise won't be blind -- owners True North started out by operating IHL and AHL teams from 1996 to 2011 -- but many adjustments will be required.

Among some of the considerations locally:

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/3/2015 (1346 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IF the planned vote of AHL governors Thursday approves the transfers of the St. John's IceCaps to Winnipeg (as requested by the Winnipeg Jets) and the Hamilton Bulldogs to St. John's, N.L., (as requested by the Montreal Canadiens), the wheels will go quickly into motion for plans for the 2015-16 season.

There won't be much disruption of business in St. John's, though it will be causing some hockey personnel to relocate.

The move back to Winnipeg for the Jets' AHL franchise won't be blind — owners True North started out by operating IHL and AHL teams from 1996 to 2011 — but many adjustments will be required.

Among some of the considerations locally:

 

Home ice

The AHL team will play in the MTS Centre. There are no other realistic venues in Winnipeg.

It's believed the AHL team will be housed in its own quarters in the arena, and not just use the NHL room when needed.

What the transfer of the team back to Winnipeg may do is speed up the talked-about renovations for the MTS Iceplex, which may need additional facilities to provide comfort for both the Jets and an AHL team when they practise there (which could be more frequently, given the squeeze on time at the MTS Centre). There has been talk of expanding the Jets' space at the Iceplex, which currently isn't large.

 

Schedule

It sounds nearly certain the majority of the AHL teams will play 76 games next season, as compared to 82 for the NHL. The exception will be the Pacific Division AHL teams, which will play some number in the 60's, it's been reported.

The league used to have an 80-game schedule, in Moose days, but reduced that a few years ago. The push, largely by NHL-owned franchises, to go down to 72 games won't be going ahead any time soon.

What Winnipeg fans will surely be reintroduced to are home doubleheaders. This was the blessing and curse of Winnipeg's (and St. John's) geography in relation to AHL rivals in the past and will surely be a reality in the future.

Travel for the AHL team will, at times, not be fun, so nothing new there for those familiar with the IceCaps and Moose. That's the reality of the AHL.

It's also likely the AHL team will build its home schedule around the Jets' schedule at the MTS Centre. NHL schedules are generally released in June, the AHL's in August. Home afternoon-evening doubleheaders (one AHL, one NHL) aren't out of the question.

 

AHL alignment

It's a cart-before-the horse question. The league realigned its divisions last year and will do so again for 2015-16.

Already, the AHL has approved a new Pacific Division with San Jose (Sharks), Ontario (Kings), San Diego (Ducks), Stockton (Calgary) and Bakersfield (Edmonton) all in California venues.

The Jets' AHL team will not be part of that group. True North had said previously it was not interested in that scheme to take teams to the West Coast and the franchise transfer from St. John's to Winnipeg is not part of that story.

Many possibilities for 2015-16 exist, given the holes in the east left by the teams moving west.

 

Tickets

There's a considerable difference in the price of AHL tickets vs. NHL tickets.

Currently in St. John's, IceCaps single-game tickets can be found for $23 to $31 (plus fees). Season tickets and packages enjoy some discounts.

NHL tickets in Winnipeg go from $52 to more than $180 face value in single-game sales, but vary widely depending on opponent. True North said a year ago its true average ticket price was $81 for the Jets.

 

All of that factored in, there will be a segment of fans that find the affordability of AHL games attractive and often a difference in a decision to attend.

 

Financial picture

Keep in mind that in St. John's or Winnipeg, hockey operations (players, equipment, travel) cost X.

In Winnipeg, operating an AHL team won't cause True North to have to build a new business operation. They have one running the NHL team, one that's in many ways familiar with running an AHL team because that's how they started.

An AHL team in Winnipeg would reduce some costs for True North. Though the assigning of players both up and down wouldn't always be free — sometimes players would have to be assigned or recalled while one team or the other was on the road — the overall cost will go down because sometimes it won't involve an expensive last-minute flight.

And it'll be the same for scouting and monitoring the progress of the AHL team by the NHL team's management and scouts. Those costs won't go to zero but they will be reduced significantly by the mere playing of games at the MTS Centre.

As for revenue, it's hard to say.

The IceCaps have been an outstanding draw in St. John's. They sold out the first 120 games they played at Mile One Centre, 6,287 fans strong for each. Attendance has dipped somewhat this year, averaging 5,787.

In the final season of the Manitoba Moose, an average of 8,404 fans attended at the MTS Centre, second-best total in the league. The numbers were steady and in that range since the MTS Centre opened in 2004.

In each case, St. John's or the Moose, it was strong revenue streams. Both were believed to be profitable businesses.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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