Canucks purchasing, moving the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen, according to report, but where to?

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.

Late Saturday night, Andy Strickland of True Hockey reported that St. Louis and Vancouver have reached an agreement on the Rivermen:

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.

21 comments

  1. Thomas Pratt
    March 30, 2013

    Isn’t it also likely that the Canucks just jumped on a rare opportunity to purchase their own AHL affiliate. Whether it ends up in the Valley or not, having full control over the affiliate can only be good for player development.

    I can see wanting the team in Abbotsford because they would be easy to go watch. But the AHL is still so oriented toward the Eastern US, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea. Besides, why would the Flames and current owners walk away from their organized extortion of Abbotsford taxpayers?

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  2. HumanCannonball
    March 30, 2013

    I don’t know a lot about these things, but wouldn’t it be possible for an AHL team to share the Pacific Coliseum with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants? I’ve tried to find info on AHL territorial rights, and there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of info out there. Could the AHL put the kibosh on the deal based on proximity? Could the Giants?

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    • John
      March 30, 2013

      I would like to know more about this as well. Isn’t there some sort of agreement between the AHL and the WHL that prevents such a move? If not, Vancouver or Seattle could be pretty good options.

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      • Wetcoaster
        March 30, 2013

        Victoria could have been ideal too if they didn’t already have the Royals in town. A seaplane hop from Victoria straight to Vancouver waterfront is probably faster than a drive in from Abbotsford during rush hour.

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  3. 253HockeyFan
    March 30, 2013

    I would love to see this franchise in Seattle, should the Kings end up in Seattle as well. Otherwise i’m not sure where in the West the Canucks would put this franchise that wouldn’t compete/cannibalize another league’s franchise.

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  4. Nee
    March 30, 2013

    I hope this works out and our new AHL team is somewhere in the lower mainland. It would be great for the prospects to be near the big club.

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  5. Lee
    March 30, 2013

    A bit of insider info here. The Aquilini Group is trying to purchase the arena in Abbotsford. They made a bid this past week but it was rejected by Abbotsford City Council in a closed door meeting. It’s expected they will up the offer and try again. They have been in negotiations with the city for many months now. When I talked to a member of the Heat ownership a few weeks ago, I was told there was a 99 percent chance the Heat were moving and the Canucks were taking over. Granted, this could all fall apart, but that is their plan as of now.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      March 30, 2013

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      • Lee
        March 31, 2013

        It’s true ;) …can’t say how I know as I don’t want to be fired, but it is first hand information. Very hush-hush right now, but the first bid by the Aquilini’s was rejected this past week. Reasons why…no idea. Guessing the price wasn’t high enough, but that’s pure speculation. I do know the Aquilini’s are expected to come back with another offer. As for someone asking about the lease with Abbotsford being air tight…I asked about that too about two months or so ago when I first heard rumblings. Response from Heat ownership was the Canucks have so much money, they are buying out the contract. That’s where I first heard Peoria mentioned as well, that’s been in the works for awhile. The Heat ownership actually don’t want to sell and are quite disappointed…but money talks.

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        • Heatfan
          April 1, 2013

          I call BS

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  6. Greg Williams
    March 30, 2013

    Why not just leave the team in Peoria? Peoria has Excellent facilities for an AHL team!!! Peoria has had professional hockey for like 30 years! Peoria already has a “base of hockey team sponsors”! Peoria is an Excellent Hockey Town, it is just that since the Blues took over ownership they never wanted to bring in many good players and the Blues were just too cheap to spend any money in Peoria!

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  7. Chris the Curmudgeon
    March 30, 2013

    Depending on the territoriality issue, I wonder if they could move to the Langley Events Centre. It holds 5,500 so it’s a little on the small side, but that still makes it big enough to hold more than the average AHL attendance figure. The idea could be that moving them to the Fraser Valley could further erode the Heat’s fanbase, basically effectively giving the Flames the finger. If the Flames then moved their team, the Rivermen could then potentially look at setting up in Abbotsford. Obviously it’s a pretty aggressive manoeuvre, but it seems pretty silly that the Flames would try to hang onto a team with lousy attendance right in the middle of Canucks territory. Hopefully by setting up shop nearby they get the message that they’re not welcome.

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    • Wetcoaster
      March 30, 2013

      If anything, that might upset Abbotsford city who would be on the hook for any further Heat losses.

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    • Tom selleck's moustache
      March 31, 2013

      I was thinking the exact same thing as I was reading the article. The event centre is certainly a nice enough facility and makes a lot of sense if they wanted to go the hardball route.

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    • JS Topher
      March 31, 2013

      Interesting idea as the Langley BCHL franchise is called the Langley Rivermen. As a life long resident of Langley, I support this idea!

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  8. UBC
    March 30, 2013

    The Rivermen should play at UBC Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre til the Heats moved out of Abbotsford.

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  9. Naturalmystic
    March 30, 2013

    I was under the impression that the Heat are locked in an airtight lease agreement with the city of Abbotsford.

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  10. Anywhere but Chicago
    April 1, 2013

    Glad to hear they’ve bought a farm team. Hopefully they try to strong arm the Flames farm team out of town, for pure enjoyment purposes :)

    The Wolves are perhaps the worst option in terms of developing prospects. They prefer to jam their roster full of veterans so they can win hockey games, and send Canucks prospects to the ECHL. Its been crap form the get go. Rumors over the last 2 yrs have Gillis and co. very unhappy with their Wolves relationship.

    Glad the can finally control their own team and start developing their prospects the way they want. yee haww

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    • Mike
      April 1, 2013

      The Wolves organization has always been building their team to put a great product on the ice. They do not have many prospects in the ECHL; there is actually quite a few prospects playing up with Vancouver right now. Ebbett, Gordon, Schroeder, Kassian to name a few. Chicago is a great place to develop prospects.

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      • John
        April 1, 2013

        The goals of the Canucks and Wolves organizations aren’t really the same. Chicago is trying to build a profitable winning organization while the Canucks are trying to develop NHL players. The Canucks would probably be willing to sacrifice some wins if it meant getting young players the ice time they need to become better players.

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  11. Greg Williams
    April 1, 2013

    “Anywhere” should be Peoria! If you look at the Blues players over the last 8 years, a number of them have been “developed” in Peoria. Peoria has been been a great place for the Blues to develop players. It was just a financial situation the Blues didn’t want any expenses from the Rivermen. Peoria has Excellent facilities for an AHL team! The Peoria Civic Center seats about 10,000; and, Peoria has great hockey fans! PLEASE KEEP THE RIVERMEN IN PEORIA!!!

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