Maine Hockey Journal

Silly season is in full swing

Sometimes the off-season can be just as eventful for a hockey club as the regular season.

Every year the American Hockey League undergoes a few changes, but this year seems to have ratcheted silly season to a whole new level. That’s certainly the case for the Portland Pirates, who head into the off-season with many unanswered questions and very few answers.

As of right now, no one willing to talk about the future of the Pirates and that has only opened the doors wide open to speculation.

“We’re not making any comments, right now,” said Portland Pirates managing owner/CEO Brian Petrovek in a recent Portland Press Herald interview. “We have players and activities going on in our marketplace, having conversations with the coaches, and I am respecting that.”

It’s been long believed that the Anaheim Ducks will end their affiliation in Portland and move closer to their home in Orange County.

Since midway into the ’06-‘07 season, Anaheim Ducks General Manager Brian Burke has never hid his intentions of wanting to move his affiliation closer to the west coast.

“The only difficulty is geographic, there’s not on single thing we’d like Portland to do differently,” said Burke. “The only issue is does it make sense to have your farm team on the opposite coast.”

The Ducks recently announce a new affiliation agreement with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL, ending their two-year working agreement with the Augusta Lynx. In Burke’s world, he’d love to have his AHL affiliate in California too, but that doesn’t appear to be a reality in the current climate of the AHL.

What does appear to be a reality is that Anaheim is apparently ready to set up shop in Des Moines, Iowa after that franchise announced back in April they were terminating their three-year old affiliation with the Dallas Stars.

The Iowa franchise, named after their parent club, is in the process of re-branding and it’s expected that they could announce a new team name, team colors and affiliate as soon as next week.

Replacing Anaheim in Portland would be the Buffalo Sabres after they ended a 29-year affiliation agreement with the Rochester Americans due to a squabble between ownership of the NHL and AHL clubs. Until last season, it was the longest-standing affiliation agreement in the AHL.

No one from the Sabres would comment on the impending move to Portland, but Mike Gilbert Buffalo’s director of public relations did confirm in the very same Press Herald article what was known all along that Buffalo was definitely leaving Rochester.

“The only thing we’ve said is we’re not going back to Rochester.”

The Sabres have shared the affiliation in Rochester for the past three seasons with the Florida Panthers and for a while, it was believed that Florida was the leading candidate to move to Portland, but Panthers’ Alternate Governor Bill Torrey has been in discussion with Rochester about forging a long-term deal with that club.

Again, an announcement could come as early as next week.

That leaves the Dallas Stars as lone team without an AHL affiliate for next season. The Stars have plans on moving their farm club to a new 6,800-seat arena currently under construction in Cedar Park, a suburb of Austin in time for the 2009-10 season, but despite having a place to play, the Stars still have a couple of major hurdles to cross before that becomes a reality.

The biggest issue is the Stars do not own an AHL franchise, so their first priority is to purchase an existing franchise that’s for sale. It just happens to be the Edmonton Oilers own a franchise that is currently not in use and it’s believed the Stars are very interested in purchasing the franchise, which would have relieved the other issue for the Stars, which is where do they place their prospects for next season until the completion of the arena.

The only sticking point at this point seems to be the price.

For the last month, rumors circulating around AHL circles have the Stars buying an existing franchise with the intention of moving it to the former home of the Stars, Reunion Arena in Dallas. However, as of late that has lost steam with now the current belief that Dallas will place spread their prospects out among a couple of teams in the AHL until the 09’-10’ season when they hope to move their new team, the Texas Stars, into their new arena in Cedar Park.

Regardless of what happens over the summer, one thing is for certain that when the first domino falls, the rest won’t be far behind as it sets up to be an entertaining off-season.

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