Maine Hockey Journal

Pirates and Sabres join forces

Portland, ME – After close to six months of speculation and rumors, the worst kept secret in the AHL was finally revealed today as the Portland Pirates announced a multi-year affiliation agreement with the Buffalo Sabres.

For the last three seasons, the Pirates were the affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, but after being informed by Ducks management that they intended to explore options that were closer to California, instead of signing an agreement to extend the deal, completing the original five-year affiliation agreement.

Pirates’ Managing Owner/CEO Brian Petrovek wasted little time in looking for another dance partner.

“It was important to us at that time, recognizing Anaheim’s desire to look at options and not extend by the October 1 deadline,” said Petrovek. “That was important for us as an independent owner to do the same to look at our alternatives, to look at our option.”

“Clearly, we need to be in a place that when the music stopped he had a seat to sit on.”

Enter the Buffalo Sabres, who indicated in November they were ending their relationship with the Rochester Americans, one that lasted for 29-seasons, which is the long affiliation agreement between an NHL team and their AHL affiliate.

The Sabres were having difficulty on several levels with the Americans; felt it was time for a change.

“In Rochester, for a lot of reasons we were put into a position where we were sharing a franchise with another team,” said Sabres Managing Partner Larry Quinn. “We didn’t like that arrangement and quite frankly, it’s what led us to the meeting with Brian (Petrovek) and Lyman (Bullard), which turned out to be a great benefit for us.

Quinn went on to speak about the dual affiliate with the Florida Panthers and its effect on Buffalo’s development of players.

“We couldn’t sign veteran players, we couldn’t even bring players – we are bringing (to Portland) – that we might have brought in a year earlier so we were kind of standing on one foot,” he said. “We made it known that it was not the situation we wanted and found ourselves every June without options. So what we did this fall was said we’re going to make a decision on November 1; if we can’t have the situation we want, we’re going to move on.”

The deal with Portland, similar to the Ducks agreement – three years with an option for two more years at Buffalo’s discretion – took only minutes to construct after the first meeting between Petrovek and Sabres COO Dan DiPofi.

Deal includes the Sabres providing all on-ice talent, which includes veterans as well as coaching staff and equipment and athletic training staff.
“For the most part two-thirds of our players have been drafted and developed by our scouting and coaching staff, it’s that combination with having quality veterans,” said Sabres GM Darcy Regier.

“We had gotten away from for the last few years, it will be something that we’ll get back too for the standpoint of pointing the young players in the right direction and help the coaching staff grow the talent, which is vital.”

Over the last several weeks, the Sabres have been on a signing spree as they tried to beat not only the June 1st deadline for signing prospects, but get their European prospects signed in light of the lingering issues with the IIHF transfer agreement.

“It’s a factor,” said Regier. “It was a little bit of a bump in the road, but it worked out, but I think down the road it’s still going to be an issue.”

It’s expected that current Americans head coach Randy Cunneyworth will become the new head coach for the Pirates pending he isn’t hired for one of the vacant NHL head coaching or assistant coaching jobs.

“The job is open for Randy and the only thing that would step in front of that or cause any type of change would be if Randy got a job in the National Hockey League,” said Regier. “Pending Randy going to the National Hockey League, Randy will be here.”

With the Pirates and Sabres joining forces, both sides spoke having a close-knit partnership. In the Pirates case, the first thing they’ll notice is their NHL affiliate is almost 2500 miles closer than Anaheim. Petrovek speculated that he might like to grow the Pirates brand, not only in Maine, but also in Western New York with a game at the Sabres home arena, HSBC Arena.

Don’t expect, at least for this season, to see the Pirates play anybody from AHL’s Western Conference, which includes the Rochester Americans. Petrovek did indicate that they might explore in the future of have a road trip through New York, playing Syracuse, Rochester, Binghamton and Albany.

“It’s just doesn’t fit our business model,” said Petrovek.

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The Sabres have an upcoming prospects camp in Niagara Falls, NY, which starts on June 26 and last roughly one week. Expect many future Pirates to be in attendance including goaltender Jhonas Enroth, Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy.

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