Maine Hockey Journal

Burke looks west for new nest

PORTLAND, ME – Over the last week or so more news has emerged on the potential future plans of the Anaheim Ducks in regard to their affiliation status next season.

An article in the Journal-Star last Wednesday spoke about the pending sale of the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen to the St. Louis Blues. That wouldn’t appear to be anything earth shattering to fans here in Portland, except for one little piece of information referencing the Anaheim Ducks interests in purchasing the Rivermen with the intentions of relocating them to an undisclosed destination.

“The Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks are believed to be the NHL teams that contacted Saurs about buying and moving the Rivermen out of Peoria. Anaheim, according to sources, presented a letter of intent to purchase the team in February.”

On Thursday, San Diego’s Union-Tribune added more fuel to the fire with a story about the Ducks potentially setting up shop in San Diego in the near future.

One doesn’t have to think too hard about what was going on, as it seems quite apparent that Brian Burke and the Anaheim Ducks were looking to purchase the Rivermen with the intent on moving them to the San Diego.

For some reason, Brian Burke can’t comprehend the fact that the AHL is largely a regional league with a semi-national footprint. Starting with 29 teams ranging from Maine to Manitoba down to Texas, the AHL covers a large area, but for the most part teams are concentrated to the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern region of the United States and Southern Ontario in Canada. The exception is Manitoba and the two teams in Texas (San Antonio and Houston).

As AHL President Dave Andrews can attest, there are only so many teams to go around. Burke is looking to scoop one up on the open market, and he’s finding it to be difficult at best.

“We just don’t have an inventory of team that I could say move to the Midwest or on the West Coast,” said Andrews.

The biggest factor is the cost of travel for teams in the AHL and trying to keep those costs down is a large reason why the AHL is concentrated in certain areas of the country.

I tend to believe Burke doesn’t grasp that fact or doesn’t at least acknowledge it.

It’s been no secret from day one that he has wanted to move the primary affiliation out of Portland to be closer to Anaheim, from the first time a story popped up about Burke touring the Ford Center in Oklahoma City to recent news in the Journal-Star and Union-Tribune. To be fair, it’s understandable that he wants to be closer to Anaheim, but not at the expense of health of the AHL.

So let’s give Burke his wish and look at the look at the reality of the AHL going to California.

First, in order to make it work a large segment of AHL franchises would have to be so unhappy with their current markets, they would want to uproot and head west, beginning with the three NHL teams in California.

Anaheim, as noted, doesn’t own their own franchise so they would have to purchase a team to move or find an owner who was willing to move out west. A tough task at best because the AHL isn’t looking to head west and owners aren’t looking to sell to relocate.

“Right now, there are opportunities for us, probably more then we had in a long time, but it’s interesting,” said Andrews. “We have 29 teams, and one franchise for sale and we ‘only’ have one franchise for sale.”

“It quite a quandary to be in because if we go outside our geography, which would be an opportunity for us, but we really don’t have an opportunity to do a grouping of teams, so to go way outside of the geography and not have a grouping of teams is difficult at best.”

“Although it is not impossible it’s not something we want to do.”

The other two teams in California, San Jose and Los Angeles are very happy in their current situations. The Kings own the Manchester Monarchs and play out of the Verizon Wireless Arena. They have eight years remaining on the current lease and according to several insiders in order for Los Angeles to get out of the lease it would be very cost prohibitive.

As for the San Jose Sharks, according to their organization, they couldn’t be happier in Worcester. They have been awarded the AHL All-Star Classic next season and are in the midst of a 10-year lease with the DCU Center. The Sharks are also in talks about expansion plans for the arena linking a skyway to the nearby Hilton hotel and parking garage.

It’s very difficult to gather a grouping of teams to head westward when they are perfectly happy where they are.

“Los Angeles made a consciences decision to come east when they bought that franchise,” said Andrews. “They believe from a player development point of view (practicing is more important). They don’t mind the recall issue to get to Los Angeles; they mind the (player) having to fly all over the planet to play those games. If he’s going to play in the American League that they want him to have quality practice time and to have as little stress on his body from a travel point of view as possible. Being in New England, that’s what they wanted (when they arrived) and similarly San Jose has felt that way, they really like being in Worcester.”

“There is one NHL team (Anaheim) that’s very interested (in moving west). I’m not so sure there are five or six.”

So if the AHL acknowledges Burke wants to head west, but in the same breath makes a statement that Burke is the only one looking to move. I guess then Burke is simply only looking after his own self-interest. Again, to be fair, that is completely his right, but he won’t receive much gratitude from the AHL Board of Governors, especially if he comes to them with a proposal to purchase a franchise with the intention of moving to Southern California, ultimately becoming an outpost franchise.

If he’s not willing to foot the bill for majority of the travel for opposing teams then I could very easily see the BoG voting any such proposal down.

Burke knows this, but he’s a lawyer by trade and a strong willed personality so he gets on his soapbox and sends out the rally cry to all Ducks fans that we need this for the betterment of our players and their development when in actuality it isn’t true at all.

Anaheim hasn’t suffered by having their players in Portland or on the East Coast. There hasn’t been one instance where a player didn’t arrive in Anaheim on time to take part in the game if needed. The Ducks in the last three seasons have never skated shorthanded in game as a result of a player not arriving in Anaheim on time.

At the end of the day, Burke might have to live with the fact that California isn’t an option for the AHL right now or in the near future and he might have to just take the job in Toronto to have is his affiliate down the street.

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