The game of AHL thrones appears to have begun. Who will win? Who will die? As we all know, there is no middle ground.
10 days ago, we discussed a report from the Team 1040′s Tom Mayenknecht that had the Canucks, Flames, and Blues working on a three-way affiliate trade, of sorts. In a move that seemed needlessly complicated, Mayenknecht said that the Canucks would be buying the Peoria Rivermen and moving them to Abbotsford, the Blues would be partnering with the suddenly vacant Chicago Wolves, and the Flames would be moving the Abbotsford Heat to Utica.
It had the look of a few steps too many, and we speculated instead that it would likely be the Flames purchasing the Rivermen while the Canucks snagged the franchise in Abbotsford. That still seems, to us, to be the most logical course, but over the weekend, more reports surfaced tying the Canucks not to Abbotsford, but Peoria.
The Peoria Rivermen, a longtime staple in minor league hockey, appear to be closing in on their final days as an American Hockey League affiliate of the St. Louis Blues.
Multiple sources confirm St. Louis has agreed to sell the franchise to the Vancouver Canucks and will cut ties at the conclusion of this season.
Sources say it no longer makes financial sense for the Blues to continue owning the Rivermen.
Sure enough, the Canucks plan to move the Rivermen, most likely somewhere closer to them, like, say, Abbotsford. On Friday, the club notified their arena that they were on the way out. From the Peoria Journal-Star:
“It’s not legal and it’s not binding because it isn’t in ink on paper yet, but yes, they are gone,” Civic Center general manager Jim Wetherington said Friday afternoon. “They have emailed me what they are sending in writing.
“The Rivermen are leaving. They are gone. That’s really all it says. The Blues have exercised their option in the lease to end the agreement.”
But the wrinkle here is the Flames, who don’t appear willing to just step kindly aside. According to multiple reports, while the Canucks are fully aware that the simpler course would have been to buy the team that’s already in the Fraser Valley, talks between them and the Flames broke off some time ago. That explains why they’ve chosen the more complicated route of buying the Rivermen.
If the Flames aren’t cooperating, however, this doesn’t explain how the Canucks expect to set up shop in Abbotsford. Last I checked, Abbotsford didn’t really have a “the more, the merrier” attitude when it came to pro hockey franchises in their city.
One hypothesis: the Canucks and the Blues have reached an agreement, but this deal isn’t quite official yet. It’s still possible for the Flames to get involved, and I’d suggest the Canucks are hoping they do. By threatening to cut Calgary out of the three-way trade and perhaps move the Rivermen somewhere nearby — and Lord knows any neighbouring city would welcome this cash cow — the Canucks could do a lot of damage to the already struggling Heat. It’s possible the point of this purchase is to strong-arm the Flames out of town after talks regarding doing things the easy way broke off.
Again, there are several reasons the Flames would want to go elsewhere, and I’m confident the reasons will be enough for them to go. But clearly, they won’t go without a fuss, and the Canucks plan to buy the Rivermen is evidence of that fuss.
Still, unless something changes, it now appears that the Canucks own an AHL franchise without a home. How this all shakes out is still very much up in the air. If they can’t reach a deal to pry the Flames out of Abbotsford, where might the Rivermen land?
s/t to Canucks Army for the tip.