Maine Hockey Journal

Are the Ducks flying west?

Portland, ME – Are they leaving or aren’t they?

Many thought the issue of who would be the Portland Pirates affiliate was put to rest when a local television station interviewed Anaheim General Manager Brian Burke back on January 9th. Despite earlier issues between the Ducks and Pirates management, things appeared to have sorted themselves out, but apparently that’s not the case.

Or at least nobody’s saying.

“We are committed to having a strong minor league affiliate and the relationship right now is working extremely well, said Ducks General Manager Brian Burke in the January 9th interview. “I mean it would be a real good opportunity for me if thing weren’t working well, It would be a real good opportunity for me to say that. I really have no complaints this season. Not one.”

So what happened since then and now?

On Jan. 29th, the Ducks held their State of the Franchise event where management, coaching staff and players of the Ducks addressed the status of their season to date and answered questions from fans that were in attendance.

Things seem to get murky when a question posed to Burke about the relationship between Portland and Anaheim arose. Burke was asked how the affiliation was going and as usual the Anaheim GM was quite candid in his assessment.

Burke said that he would have rated the relationship based on last season as a “D” but they have worked on several issues and continue to make progress. Burke went on to say how that travel was an issue in getting players to and from Portland and Anaheim respectively. Despite signing a new affiliation agreement for one more year, he expects to pull anchor and fly elsewhere when the contract is up in order to be closer to Anaheim.

So what happen during the span of 20 days for Burke to make this statement? It was a statement that caught many by surprise including Pirates Managing Owner Brian Petrovek who hadn’t heard those comments, but was certainly caught off-guard.

“I’m amazed that he would put that type of a grade on our relationship based upon the communication that we’ve had so far this season,” said Petrovek.

In regard to travel, Petrovek has made several assurances to Ducks management that his organization would make every attempt possible to make the cross-country flight as easy as possible.

“To the extent he has an issue when you have to travel players from coast-to-coast at the wee hours of the morning, perhaps that is an issue, but not without hearing it directly from him, but I am not quite sure what the specific issue would be,” he said “There could be an occasion where a coast-to-coast travel situation could become an issue, but we’ve indicated to him that if it ever became an issue, we have a private charter to get players back and forth. I’ve made it clear to him that we are in a position to make this a non-issue.”

The Ducks options for leaving are not as great as they may seem. Currently, there are 27 teams in the league with 29 expected next year as the Lake Erie Monsters (Cleveland) and the Cincinnati franchise, which is currently in the process of being sold to a group from Rockford, Illinois after a deal fell through with the Ice Track project in Windsor, Ontario.

Burke’s primary claim was being in the Eastern time zone and how it was affecting travel, but currently only 9 of 27 teams are located outside the Eastern time zone and those AHL franchises have affiliation agreements or are owned by their NHL parent with the exception of the Atlanta-Chicago affiliation which expires after this season, but the Ducks and Pirates have one more year on their existing deal. That would appear to make any such deal unlikely, but as with Washington and Portland, anything is possible.

The franchise in Portland is not in any immediate danger of leaving as they will be around for the foreseeable future regardless of who is supplying the players in Portland. The Pirates lease with the Cumberland County Civic Center runs for at least three more seasons so AHL hockey of some type will be played in Portland.

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