Thursday, April 21, 2011

One domino falls . . .

Will moving fans, inside and out, at Prospera Centre 
be the final memory of the WHL in Chilliwack?
Well, the deed is done.
The WHL is in Victoria and the AHL isn’t.
And that’s the name of that game.
But two hockey teams had to be buried in order for the WHL to get across the Strait of Georgia.
The Chilliwack Bruins are dead. Long live the Bruins!
The ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings are soon to be dead! Long may they run in these playoffs!!
If you have been paying attention to this saga from the beginning, you didn’t learn a whole lot yesterday.
You learned that the deal closed on Tuesday. You learned that the Victoria franchise has a website and that it is running a name-the-team contest.
The most interesting stuff, however, came out of a news release, a copy of which arrived in my inbox from the Bruins.
In it, the WHL and the franchise’s former owners — at least, the majority owners — tried to explain the “multiple reasons that led to the decision” to sell the Bruins. What they did was lay the corpse at the feet of minority owners Moray Keith and Jim Bond.
To summarize that news release:
1. The WHL’s board of governors decided in February 2009 to “actively pursue securing a WHL franchise for the Victoria market.” The governors decided at that time “that should a franchise become available for sale, the WHL may elect to relocate the club to Victoria.”
2. The WHL chose not to sell an expansion franchise “due to the demand it would place on the talent pool of players.”
3. The Chilliwack market changed after arenas went up in Langley and Abbotsford and the NHL’s Calgary Flames relocated their AHL affiliate, the Heat, to Abbotsford. (What the WHL doesn’t mention is that the Calgary Flames own the Calgary Hitmen, so it seems an NHL team actually had a hand in the death of the Bruins.)
4. With the change in the market “it became obvious to the Bruins ownership group that the franchise needed to be restructured from a medium-size model to a small market-size model.”
5. With that in mind, according to the news release, the Bruins ownership group wanted to renegotiate its lease with the Chiefs Development Group, which holds the management contract for Prospera Centre. “What was requested was a lease concurrent to other small-market privately owned WHL teams,” the news release reads, without providing examples. What is interesting about this is that Keith is president of the Chiefs Development Group.
6. “This inability to secure a new lease contributed to the deterioration of our ownership group and their relationship with the Chiefs Development Group,” continues the release.
7. The Bruins’ ownership group — Brian Burke, Glen Sater, Darryl Porter, Keith and Bond — met on Jan. 13 and “agreed with the WHL to sell its franchise for the purpose of relocating the club to Victoria. Provided the terms of the sale met the conditions . . . the partners agreed no other offers would be considered.” . . . (In other words, the Bruins were sold without being placed on the open market. A source familiar with the situation has told me that RG Properties paid $5.5 million for the franchise.)
8. The WHL board of governors granted “conditional approval” for the sale on March 17. The deal closed Tuesday. According to the news release, “All conditions associated with the WHL's approval of the sale and relocation have been satisfied.”
All of this raises a couple of questions:
1. What kind of an arrangement is it that has the franchise’s minority owners controlling the building in which the team plays?
2. If the minority owners were part of the movement not to renegotiate the lease, why didn’t the majority owners simply sell the team to them?
3. How long until Keith and Bond tell their side of the story, including Keith‘s late attempt to purchase the franchise for $6.2 million?
Later, on Chilliwack radio station 89.5 The Hawk, Darryl Porter, the Bruins’ governor, pointed a finger at the Calgary Flames:
“There's a code in minor sports and especially in hockey. You don't do what Calgary did here. You don't do that and it's never happened. The fundamental bad break we got was when the city of Abbotsford built a building with no plan and they did that deal with the (AHL's Abbotsford Heat). At the end of the day, we're not contributing to that, we're a victim of that."
The Heat, of course, is the AHL affiliate of the Flames, who own the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen.
Brian Burke, one of the Bruins’ majority owners, added:
"The notion that somehow we changed our mind on Chilliwack, or somehow betrayed the fans there when in fact the American Hockey League moved a competing team in within a very close radius to our operating base . . . the notion that we had any control over that or that that's our fault is crazy. I've never taken a dime out of this team."
The afore-mentioned news release also contained this paragraph:
“It should be noted that the WHL Board of Governors govern all matters related to WHL franchises. This includes the right to approve franchise ownership and the relocation and sale of franchises in accordance with its bylaws, constitution and strategic plans.”
You wonder if this wasn’t, at least in part, a shot across the bow of the Regina Pats, who are owned by Diane and Russ Parker of Calgary. Russ was in Victoria for yesterday’s news conference. Their son, Darren, was recently named senior vice-president of sales and marketing with the Victoria Salmon Kings.
The Pats are again embroiled in lease negotiations with Evraz Place, the organization that controls the Brandt Centre, the building in which the WHL team plays.
I was told last weekend that Evraz Place had given the Pats a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer and that the Parkers were seriously considering leaving it.
Of course, the Pats and Evraz Place are no strangers to testy negotiations, and only time will tell how it plays out this time.
Marc Habscheid, the Bruins’ general manager and head coach, is two years into what is believed to be a five-year contract. I have been told but haven’t able to confirm that he has a clause in his contract that allows him to leave should the franchise be relocated.
When I contacted him via text on Tuesday and asked if he was able to talk, he responded: “Rather not rt now. Thx.”
There are stories to be told about what went on in the Bruins organization over the last year, but we may never hear them.
As one former employee wrote in an email to me on Wednesday:
“We are all holding on to the hopes that a team comes here so we don't want to burn any bridges, especially since this is our livelihood. We all invested so much time and energy to make this work and little did we know that we never had a chance.”
Paul J. Henderson of the Chilliwack Times reports that in December the owners of the Chilliwack Bruins asked city hall for $175,000 a year “to help with sagging revenues.”
That story is right here.
Cory Flett, the WHL’s director, communications, sometimes tweets a song of the day. An emailer has suggested some suggestions for him to send in the direction of Chilliwack fans.
“I would recommend ‘Not Ready to Go’ by the Trews or ‘I'll Keep Your Memory Vague’ by Finger Eleven.
“And, for the new owners and the people of Victoria, I would recommend ‘Bring Everything’ by Jason Plumb.”
The emailer also pointed out that “all songs are Cancon.”
SOME NOTES: Don’t forget that the City of Victoria promised to add 10 years to RG Properties’ management contract for SOFMC if it was able to land a WHL franchise. That agreement now runs until 2046. . . . By that time, the WHL may have a franchise in Nanaimo. . . . Former WHL F Josh Aspenlind scored 11 seconds into OT last night to give the host Victoria Salmon Kings a 3-2 victory over the Utah Grizzlies. The Salmon Kings lead the best-of-seven ECHL second-round series 3-0 with Game 4 scheduled for Victoria on Friday. Attendance in the 7,006-seat Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre was 3,691.
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