Opinion

COLUMN: Waiting for a new game next season

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After grinding out the goods for the past several months, the rumour mill can finally power down and send its hard-working staff home.

The Vancouver Canucks AHL farm team is not coming to Abbotsford.

The Calgary Flames-affiliated Heat are staying.

At least, that’s the case for the 2013-14 season.

Were it up to mere wishful thinking, and there was plenty of that by plenty of people, it would have unfolded as dreamed.

Hockey fans wanted it. Devoted Canucks fans have always groused that the wrong team was in town.

Whispers that the Flames were looking at moving the Heat to Utica, New York became increasingly persistent, only to be officially doused.

But suddenly, the planets started to line up. The hot gossip that the Canucks were buying the Peoria Rivermen from the St. Louis Blues actually became fact.

The Blues would partner with the existing Canucks affiliate, the Chicago Wolves.

And voila, the stage was set.

From a marketing perspective, it was a no-brainer.

For the City of Abbotsford, it held the hope of salvation from a money pit, costing taxpayers nearly $3.6 million over three years, as part of a 10-year sweetheart guaranteed revenue deal to get the Heat here.

The Calgary Flames and the Heat’s local management group were onside with a move. In fact, the AHL granted extensions so the Flames and the Canucks and the city could do a deal.

But it didn’t happen.

And we’re not about to know exactly why.

The city said it ran out of time.

More likely they didn’t favour the deal they were being offered.

Maybe it was a supply fee agreement like the Heat have? Near political suicide, for sure, but Mayor Bruce Banman says no, that wasn’t part of negotiations.

Then it had to be something else that was particularly unpalatable from the city’s perspective. And given the bitter public sentiment generated by the last costly deal, city hall was not likely to sign up for another one.

So what was on the table?

The gossip had Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini eyeballing the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre to add to his empire. Ditto the Ledgeview golf course. Was there a bargain basement offer for one or both?

Perhaps it was about who was going to compensate the Flames to move the Heat, and for how much.

Or maybe, the city just bluffed and lost.

City officials will not divulge the cards they played, primarily because the game may start again next season.

Big corporations – and that’s what professional hockey teams are – don’t do their deals in public.

So, Abbotsford can only wait and see. And think.

While we’re pondering, would a Canucks farm team in this city be as much of a bonanza as many people believe?

Sure, the arena was far more crowded when the Wolves were here, but it didn’t sell out every night, and that was when it was a novelty. What will happen when there’s an entire season of Baby Canucks to watch?

As one pundit recently mused, Toronto is a hockey-mad city of five million people, and it can’t fill an 8,000-seat arena with their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.

On the other hand, as many have said, we could hardly do worse with the Canucks farm team here.

And there’s the rub. Just about the worst thing local fans (read taxpayers) could do would be to boycott the Heat next year in a fit of pique.

It’s all about attendance.

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