July 3, 2011

Another step forward

Portland welcomes Phoenix in the change-is-constant world of pro hockey

By Rachel Lenzi rlenzi@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - This year wasn't like other years for the Portland Pirates.

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Washington Capitals, 1993-2005: Glen Hanlon, then coach of the Pirates, leads a practice at the Cumberland County Civic Center in 2004.

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Anaheim Ducks, 2005-2008: Pirates' mascot Salty Pete hams it up with the Anaheim Ducks mascot in 2005.

Additional Photos Below

When it came to finding a new National Hockey League parent club, the Pirates' ownership didn't feel forced into entering an agreement with one team. They weren't locked out by another parent club. They didn't have to settle on a deal solely on the basis of availability, that only one parent team was available, or that the Pirates were the last American Hockey League team available.

Instead, the Pirates had options -- four of them, in fact, before announcing June 27 they had entered a five-year affiliation agreement with the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes.

"We didn't create a bidding war," Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek said. "Due diligence gave us so many options. It became fun, interesting and put us in a no-lose situation."

In the last week, four NHL teams have announced new affiliations with four AHL teams -- Phoenix with the Portland Pirates, Buffalo with the Rochester Americans, Vancouver with the Chicago Wolves and Florida with the San Antonio Rampage.

Unlike the stability of Major League Baseball's minor-league system, changes in affiliation are a yearly occurrence in the AHL that, on the surface, suggest instability. But finding and securing an AHL-NHL partnership is a voluntary -- and sometimes necessary -- process that comes as a result of several factors including finances, geography, player development, business philosophies and even sheer timing.

Rick Pych, the president of Spurs Sports and Entertainment, which owns the San Antonio Rampage, said this year's round of changes hinged largely on the outcome of the Pirates' affiliation with the Buffalo Sabres, which ended when the Sabres purchased the Rochester Americans as their new affiliate.

"It was kind of an odd year in that there were a lot of related moving pieces," said Pych, whose team announced its affiliation with the Florida Panthers on Thursday, after a six-year affiliation with the Coyotes expired at the end of the 2010-2011 season. "The sale of the Rochester Americans to the Sabres, that just put a number of things in motion."

ON THE MOVE

Necessitated by the Sabres' purchase of Rochester's AHL affiliate, the Coyotes are the Pirates' fourth parent club since 2005. In each case, there were reasons for change.

The Washington Capitals ended a 12-year relationship with the Pirates at the end of the 2005 season to move their AHL operations to Hershey, Pa.

The Anaheim Ducks did not pick up a two-year option to extend its affiliation with the Pirates -- a process that began in the fall of 2007 when the Ducks owners expressed an interest in moving their minor-league operations closer to California. In the spring of 2008, Anaheim moved its AHL operations to Des Moines, Iowa -- an affiliation that lasted a year.

That year the Sabres, Petrovek said, did not surface as a potential team during initial plans.

But after conferring with the AHL on potential parent clubs -- teams with agreements that might expire, or teams that may not be satisfied with their deals -- Petrovek sought out the Sabres.

He hammered out a deal to link the Pirates with the Sabres over the course of a breakfast in Boston with Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier and Managing Partner/Minority Owner Larry Quinn toward the end of the NHL's 2007-2008 season.

NEW ENGLAND A MUST

This year, the Sabres purchased the Americans and cut ties with the Pirates, 15 months after the two organizations extended their affiliation to 2014.

"The pickings (in 2008) were not as attractive as they were this time around," Petrovek said. "We didn't much have time to look at our options."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Buffalo Sabres, 2008-2011: Buffalo Managing Partner Larry Quinn, left, and General Manager Darcy Regier announce an affiliation with the Pirates in 2008.

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Phoenix Coyotes, 2011-?: Pirates CEO Brian Petrovek announces a partnership with Phoenix last Monday.

Telegram file photos

 


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