PORTLAND — As of Monday afternoon, a Buffalo Sabres banner still hung from the rafters of the Cumberland County Civic Center. It was one of the few remaining traces of the National Hockey League club’s connection to Portland.
In a news conference at the Civic Center, the Portland Pirates ended a weekend of speculation by announcing they will become the Phoenix Coyotes’ new American Hockey League affiliate.
Three days after the Buffalo Sabres ended a three-year deal with the Pirates and purchased the Rochester Americans as their farm team, the Coyotes and the Pirates announced a five-year agreement, aimed at stability, creating competitiveness and fostering player development.
“We obviously wanted to be somewhere we knew we were going to be long term,” said Coyotes Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving, who will be the Pirates’ GM. “(Affiliation) is not a process you want to go through every six months.
“Our goals for Portland are no different than those for Phoenix: Year in and year out, to be a top franchise.”
The process of finding a new parent club, Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek said, began seven months ago when it became apparent that the Sabres would be sold to Terry Pegula, a billionaire and the founder of East Resources, Inc., a natural-gas firm.
Petrovek said discussions with Phoenix as a potential affiliate began four months ago.
“We were looking for an organization that was willing to take on the task of raising the bar further than what Washington, Anaheim and Buffalo had done over these last 11 years, since we bought the franchise in the year 2000,” Petrovek said.
“We would not accept letting our fans down and who wouldn’t look back and only look ahead.”
Petrovek said that Phoenix, Vancouver, Florida and a fourth team — which he declined to name — expressed interest in teaming with the Pirates.
“The journey had its own ebb and flow over the past four months, but it was the way that Phoenix articulated the plan.
“It was the way they asked questions. It was the way they answered mine. It was about the people they’ve hired since they’ve taken over that franchise. It’s about the players they’ve drafted and the players they’ve traded for.”
The Coyotes named Ray Edwards, who has coached San Antonio since November 2009, as the Pirates’ seventh head coach.
Coyotes GM Don Maloney explained the organization’s approach to player development.
“Development starts with the draft, finding the best young players and spending the time and energy to make them NHL players,” Maloney said.
“Our philosophy is to be involved with players, determine the strengths and weaknesses of those players and provide them every opportunity to improve on those weaknesses, whether it’s strength, skill development or nutrition. It’s a very hands-on approach from every aspect of their development.”
Phoenix has made the playoffs seven times since relocating from Winnipeg, prior to the 1996-1997 season.
In six seasons as Phoenix’s AHL affiliate, San Antonio was 202-212-17-26, and made the playoffs once, in 2008. The Rampage were eliminated by the Toronto Marlies.
“I’m not interested in what San Antonio has done and I’m not really interested in what Phoenix has done,” Petrovek said.
“I’m more focused on what I see as a bright future in the decisions that they’ve made over the last couple years. I was more driven and compelled by the plan they have in place.”
Petrovek also answered questions about Phoenix’s financial situation and the rumors that the club could leave Arizona.
The Coyotes filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and the club is owned by the NHL. The city of Glendale, Ariz., paid the NHL $50 million for the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons to keep the Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena and to contribute to arena operating costs until the club has a permanent owner.
The Phoenix Business Journal reported Monday that Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago investment executive, has retracted his bid to buy the Coyotes.
“Our assumption is that there will be a new owner in Phoenix and that it will happen sooner rather than later,” Petrovek said.
“If there’s a move out of that state at some point in time, it will be one that will surprise us and one that we’ll respond to, and I’m sure it will be a good move. But we do not expect the Coyotes to move from Arizona.”
Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be contacted at 791-6415 or at: [email protected]