Maine Hockey Journal

Misinformation can cause more harm than good

I am going to disclose myself before I write this because I feel it would only be appropriate. My name is Chris Roy and I’m the founder and lead writer for Maine Hockey Journal, an online news organization that covers hockey across the state of Maine.

I’ve been working as a journalist for roughly six years, but have followed the sport of hockey since I was a little kid.

While I understand the loss of a team to one’s home market can be devastating… It’s no reason to poach a franchise that’s been in another city for the last 17 years, and is in a position to thrive, which is exactly what’s going on here based on Sen. Schumer’s comments in a letter he wrote to Sabres managing partner Larry Quinn.
Hockey has been in Portland, Maine since 1977 when the Maine Mariners arrived as the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. After winning three Calder Cups, the team was uprooted to Providence, RI in 1992 becoming the Providence Bruins. A team that has held the affiliation of the Boston Bruins since that time, and will continue to do so until at least 2016. After the Cumberland County Civic Center went dark for one season, the Portland Pirates came into existence in 1993 after former owner the late Tom Ebright moved his franchise from Baltimore becoming the AHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.

Since that time, the Pirates have undergone changes in ownership, and NHL affiliations have come and gone, but the franchise has endured the test of time because of the solid support in both the public and corporate community.

The story that appeared in the Times Union indicating it was in fact the Pirates moving were rather premature at best because Pirates ownership is still in full negotiations with Cumberland County for a long-term lease extension, and while there might be some truth to the franchise looking to relocate. It’s safe to assume that it’s no more than a prudent move of an owner making sure they have an option of a preferred market versus being forced into a market should the Pirates and County come to an impasse.

This is not the first time it’s been rumored the Pirates were on the move.

In 2005 the Pirates and County were in negotiations for a new lease. The team had an option to relocate to Worcester, Mass., but an 11th hour deal was struck as both sides agreed on a new five-year lease.

Who is to say that this also not the case?

That is what makes the recent story in the Time Union even more inappropriate; not for its newsworthiness but rather its inaccuracies, which is worse in my opinion. To spread false information in what could be a potentially volatile situation without providing supporting information is the highest sin that can be committed by a journalist.

The letter by Sen. Schumer is filled with stated facts that are incorrect because they have nothing to do with Buffalo Sabres, but rather he is looking to prey on the history of the Portland Pirates in order to build support for team’s relocation.

I’ve noticed in the last 3 of the 4 seasons your team has finished in the top 3 of your division, including a first place division finish and a dramatic playoff run.

In case Sen. Schumer didn’t notice this was only the second season for the Pirates as the AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. For the previous 29 years, Buffalo’s affiliate was in Rochester, NY, which ended because of a breakdown between the both the Sabres and Rochester Americans.

Prior to the Pirates/Sabres relationship, the Pirates were affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks where they made the playoffs two out of three seasons, going to the Eastern Conference Finals in both years of making the playoffs. In the Pirates first year as the AHL affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, they made the playoffs, losing their first round matchup to the Providence Bruins.

Ownership of a franchise is vastly different then having an AHL affiliate, which can be lost on the masses if they don’t understand how the NHL/AHL relationship works. In some cases… they are one in the same because the NHL club owns their own AHL team i.e. New York Rangers/Hartford Wolf Pack.

That is not the case with the Pirates as they are not owned or controlled by the Sabres.

The franchise is owned by Lyman Bullard, a prominent Boston lawyer who helped secure funding for the construction of what is now the TD Bank Garden, and Brian Petrovek, a former USA Hockey executive, who has deep New England ties.

In this case, the Sabres affiliation is just that, an affiliation. They have little to no control over the situation, and as such are taking a seat on the sidelines while this process is being played out. Buffalo has one guaranteed year left on their current agreement with Portland, so the Sabres can’t break that deal unless they were to work out a buyout with the ownership group.

Also, I find rather amazing that Sen. Schumer fails to mention attendance figure beyond the 1995 season. Just using attendance figures over the last five years… Can he really say Albany is a hockey market based on its population?
2009-10 – Portland 4173 (15/29)
Albany 3479 (26/29)
2008-09 – Portland 4828 (14/29)
Albany 3539 (27/29)
2007-08 – Portland 4861 (14/29)
Albany 3940 (24/29)
2006-07 – Portland 5260 (12/27)
Albany 3966 (22/27)
2005-06 – Portland 4874 (16/27)
Albany 4025 (22/27)

This isn’t to pit Portland fans against Albany fans, but if a U.S. Senator is going to write a letter to an owner of NHL team about moving their affiliation, he should at least have a grasp on how such a relationship works.

Sen. Schumer’s letter to Mr. Quinn looks more like a strong arm tactic in trying to force the Pirates to relocate to Upstate New York, or force the Sabres into breaking a legal contract in order to lure the Sabres affiliation back to New York.

In either case… It’s a dirty tactic when there are negotiations currently on-going here in Portland.

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