icecapsIt has long been a given that the Hamilton Bulldogs would be moving to Laval as soon as their new sports complex was completed in 2017. Until then, it seems the Canadiens were content to keep their number one affiliate in the Steel City despite the fact that, with it’s poor crowd support, the 17,000 seat FirstOntario Centre more often than not closely resembled a mausoleum.

According to a report in Saturday’s Hamilton Spectator and the Winnipeg Free Press plsu a follow-up report in the St. John’s Telegram the Bulldogs will be on the move after this season, but not to the new 10,000 seat Place Bell Complex in Laval  but to St. John’s Newfoundland.

Here’s the way this is reportedly going to work.

When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011 they displaced the AHL Manitoba Moose. The Moose then moved to St. John’s, became the IceCaps and have played to mostly sellout crowds at Mile One Centre. The IceCaps lease expires at the end of the season and the Jets have expressed the desire to bring their number one affilliate back to Winnipeg to play in the MCI Centre. It was Winnipeg’s AHL attendance that convinced NHL governors to approve the transfer of the Atlanta franchise.  That move may be temporary as well.  For a couple of years there has been talk of establishing the AHL team in nearby Thunder Bay but that city is low to get a planned 7,000 seat arena off the ground.

The Bulldogs ,who by the way havea year remaining in their FirstOntario Centre lease,  would then move to St. John’s for two seasons and before settling in Laval for the 2017-2018 season.  Given two years leeway St. John’s hockey management would have time to establish another affiliation perhaps with a new franchise in Quebec City.

Mile One Centre - St. John's Newfoundland

Mile One Centre – St. John’s Newfoundland

The Bulldogs played two home games this week. Attendance for Wednesday’s game against Adirondack was 2,456; Friday night against Rochester – 3,420. Their average attendance is 4,077 which is in the bottom third of the league.  Meanwhile, the 7,000 seat Mile One Centre in St. John’s has a long history of sell-out crowds. 5,361 attended Friday night’s game against Albany.

An interesting side-bar to the story. The Bulldogs are owned by Hamilton transport executive Michael Landauer who also is an investor in the Molson consortium that bought the Canadiens. He has vowed to keep hockey in Hamilton, either with the AHL or the OHL. He has no comment but the Bulldogs released a vaguely-worded news release early Saturday stating

“We are aware of the reports, but at this point nothing is official. We don’t want to add to the speculation with unconfirmed and inaccurate information. What we can tell you is that Michael Andlauer has been committed to our community, the fans and hockey in the city of Hamilton for over a decade and that will not change moving forward. We have no further comment at this time.”

It has the tone of  a done deal.  The AHL board of governors meet next week and the could approve the franchise shifts at that time.  

Because of increasing travel costs, there has been a major shift in AHL franchise location in recent years to areas more geographically friendly to the parent clubs.  A few years ago the Leafs shifted their farm team from St. John’s to Toronto.  Most of the Western teams had their farm teams on the east coast.  Next year there will be whole new AHL Division in California affiliated with Pacific Division clubs.  The Canadiens ultimately settling their AHL franchise in Laval is part of that movement.