Tuesday, November 03, 2009

What if our AHL team played in Ottawa?

When Erik Karlsson was sent down to Binghamton last week, I started wondering what would be the pros and cons of having the AHL team right in town. On the surface, you see the benefit of letting the kids hang around the big boys, see what it is like playing in an NHL market. It would also let management be very hands on in the development of the players. And Brian Lee could drive himself to the rink when he gets called up. But for every positive spin, I can start naming off many problems with the scenario. Here's a basic breakdown:

Benefits of having the AHL team in Ottawa:

1. The Murray Bros. could actively manage the system.

Some might see this as micromanagement and something that would take the elder Murray away from his attention on the big team, but that's nonsense. These are big boys and I think there is significant value in baing able to watch the minor league team first hand on a regular basis. The coaching staffs can work together, pool resources, share training facilities, etc.

2. It builds chemistry with the players.

Injuries happen (like the ones right now) and we're going to be calling players up throughout the year. By having the team in the same city, these players could potentially build some chemistry off the ice, as well as shorten the learning curve for the call-ups. The entire organization can work on the same system.

3. Logistical Eureka!

Brian Lee gets called up and drives down the Queensway to the rink. Brian Lee gets sent down and drives to the Civic Centre as planned. Every time a player is called up now, a car service is sent to Binghamton to pick up the player and make the 5-hour drive to Ottawa. That ends. And as I said earlier, Murray is at arms length to all of the organization - players, coaches, etc. Cancel the conference call number, just keep the Eugene Red Phone.

Drawbacks of having the AHL team in Ottawa:

1. Pissing off a fan base

Binghamton regularly is above 90% capacity in their arena (holds 4,717), which ranks them in the top 10% of the AHL. While we aren't sure if all Binghamtonians are Ottawa fans by default, it is safe to say that they do have an interest in what the parent club is doing. By taking away their team, we lose that fan base. Considering our footprint really goes from Stittsvilly to Vanier in terms of fan base, are we really in a position to turn our back on fans?

2. Can Ottawa support a third (fourth) team?

This is the big one, folks. The Sens will continue to pack the place. The 67's have become an amazing alternative for hockey fans as the community shows its love of minor hockey. The 67's are one of the top draws in the entire CHL, averagine over 8,000 a game. The 67's have sort of become the anti-Sens, almost like a first choice for fans that want to spend $15 on a ticket and stay in the city. Don't forget the Hull/Gatineau Olympiques across the river being a decent draw in the Q. Can Ottawa really support a fourth hockey team? Would it take fans away from the 67's and Piques?

3. Logistically nice, but financially awful.

For all the benefits of having the minor players down the street, the travel costs will undoubtedly skyrocket. Oh, they'll still jump on the bus, but add hours to every trip, add outrageous gas costs to every trip, and add another meal to every trip. They'll go through customs far more often and spend a significant number of additional hours on the bus, which isn't that fun. The costs of travel alone might rule this out.

4. It's been done and hasn't worked.

Okay, so we've looked at how the 67's have solid attendance and the B-Sens have solid attendance. That is reason enough to not mess with this. I then started to look at the rest of the AHL affiliates and their proximity to the parent club. With the Philadelphia Phantoms moving to New York after the team was sold last year, the Toronto Marlies are the only AHL team that is in the same city as their parent. The Marlies, from an attendance perspective, suck. Part of this might be because Leafs games aren't filled with hockey fans, but rather corporate suits that are hob-nobbing. This would mean that an AHL game isn't quite as glamorous as a client appreication night. But the Marlies had around 2,800 for their first playoff game and are quickly finding out what others in the past already knew - minor league hockey in city limits won't work for Toronto. There are some franchises that are 'close', such as Grant Rapids and Detroit, Pittsburgh and Scanton/Wilkes-Barre, but others are nowhere close. Buffalo was affiliated with Rochester in the past, but are now tied with Portlant, while Rochester feeds Florida. If the benefits of cost savings were so critical, don't you think teams would be interested in lining up the closest AHL franchise as their affiliate?

Conclusion - don't do it!

As much fun as it would be to have the feeder team right down the road, it just looks like it won't work. First, Bingo loves their team and it makes no sense to abandon them like that. Second, there are as many logistical and financial drawbacks as there are benefits. Third, it just hasn't worked around the league, so why not leave it alone and learn from everyone else's mistakes?

Any thoughts? Would you check out AHL games at $17 a ticket in Ottawa, in addition to the 67's, Piques, and Sens?

Here's a list of NHL/AHL affiliates, though this is a year old:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Lowell Devils (NJ)
Manchester Monarchs (LA)
Portland Pirates (BUF)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
Springfield Falcons (EDM)
Worcester Sharks (SJ)

East Division

Albany River Rats (CAR)
Binghamton Senators (OTT)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Hershey Bears (WSH)
Norfolk Admirals (TB)
Philadelphia Phantoms (PHI)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

Western Conference

North Division

Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Manitoba Moose (VAN)
Rochester Americans (FLA)
Syracuse Crunch (CBJ)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)

West Division

Chicago Wolves (ATL)
Houston Aeros (MIN)
Iowa Stars (ANA)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Peoria Rivermen (STL)
Quad City Flames (CGY)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)
San Antonio Rampage (PHX)

Available: DAL - They will spread their players around the AHL for the 2008-2009 season.


pynch said...

Love the idea, but we all know it would never fly. Ottawa is too small a city to support another pro hockey team. Alternatively, it risks taking fans away from the 67s and I would hate to see that. Having calibre and well-supported NHL and OHL teams is special. And good point on les 'Piques - another great team/league for the city. I'd just hate to take on a team we couldn't support (see: Renegades, Lynx, Rebels, etc.).

I've never looked into attendance around the AHL (thanks for that Duff) but I'm surprised that the numbers are so low for the Marlies. What does it say about "Hockeytown, Canada" when they're NHL games are full of suits and yet nobody makes it to an affordable Marlies game. It's not like the Marlies are in a suburb, either. It's interesting to me, says a lot...

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