Back in April the St. Louis Blues announced that they had sold their AHL team, the Peoria Rivermen to the Vancouver Canucks. They Blues also announced their new affiliation with the Chicago Wolves as their new AHL development team.
The Chicago Woves are an independently owned team which is under the control of Don Levin and joined the AHL back in 2001. For the past two season the Wolves have been the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, but a change has been in the making for a long time coming. The Wolves are considered to be one of the top AHL franchises having won the Calder Cup in 2002 and 2008. Currently the Wolves are coached by Scott Arniel who was formerly the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Having a former NHL coach is an added bonus to the development of the Blues young prospects.
Another added benefit of the Wolves is their popularity. The Peoria Rivemen ranked 20th in the AHL for attendance in 2012-13 averaging just 5,027 per game with actual paid attendance being closer to 2,600 per game. The Wolves on the other hand managed to average some 8,230 per game and as many as 13,000 fans at weekend games. The popularity of the team in the market helped them maintain the second best attendance records in the AHL. The added exposure could mean more success for some of these young players.
Vancouver’s interest in the Rivermen was simply that they were a member of the AHL. The Canucks purchased the team with the full intent of moving them for the 2013-14 season in order to develop players closer to home. Don’t feel too bad for the fans in Peoria though as a recent announcement was made introducing the Peoria Rivermen as the newest members of the Southern Professional Hockey League, a Class-A pro league.
Despite the announcement of the new SPHL team, fans in Peoria still have a sour taste in their mouth. Recently, the St. Louis Post Dispatch obtained an interview with St. Louis Blues owner Tom Stillman for his insight into the sale and the new affiliation. Stillman had this to say:
I do feel bad for fans of the Peoria Rivermen. There is a group there that is loyal and they have been supporting us at the gate and I understand the emotional attachment and I feel bad. At the same time, and the fact is, we weren’t getting overwhelming support in the Peoria market. Attendance was pretty light and the sponsorship and other forms of support was not very strong. And that makes it difficult to maintain an AHL franchise there. In the end, my primary duty that I see is to the St. Louis Blues franchise. In this case, it’s to the development of our prospects and to our financial well-being. And on both fronts, this is much better for the St. Louis Blues franchise.
Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong was instrumental in the change. According to Wolves GM Wendell Young,
When there was a view from Vancouver that they were going to move on, then (Blues general manager Doug Armstrong) called and … it went from there. Just knowing the reputation of Doug and the management there, the organization, it was a good fit for us. We went through the depth chart, and that was one of the enticing things, they’ve got some great young talent. That’s the key to having a team in the American League be good: your young talent, your young draft picks have to be major contributors. For the most part, we’ll probably be on the same page. That’s the big thing about us getting together. We have the same view on how to run a team, what both organizations need. We want to develop, but we also want to have a strong veteran presence and we want to win. We want to develop and win at the same time. With winning, you get development also.
Doug Armstrong also weighed in on the change in the article,
We’re going to work hand in hand in finding the right depth players to fill out that roster. I think winning breeds winning and losing breeds losing. I think having our young players develop in a winning culture is very important because we want to have a winning culture. So for us to get not only the right players on the ice to help you win, but also the right type of character players … to teach these younger players what it means to be a pro, what sacrifices need to be made and what it’s going to take to get to the next level. Wendell and I are going to work really hard in getting those NHL-AHL depth players to realize what a great opportunity it is.
While the Blues obviously benefited in certain ways by owning their own AHL franchise, the cost of operating the team was simply not in the budget for the Blues. Being able to manage the team in the way that they wished allowed for their prospects to get acclimated to the same system, but the Blues are more focused on bringing long term success to the franchise and that takes a good deal of monetary commitment. According to Stillman,
Substantial savings every year, and an emphasis on it’s not going in anybody’s pocket … it’s going to the Blues. We are trying to do things to improve the franchise, including our team. So it’s a combination. It is a cost savings and at the same time we’re getting a better situation for our prospects. Our hockey guys are very happy with the amount of control they have over the development and all of that is good. And then on the financial front, we save really a lot of money.
Hopefully the new partnership will allow Blues prospects to become even stronger when they join the NHL ranks. What are your feelings on the affiliation swap and the sale of the Rivermen? Let us know in the comments below.
LET’S GO BLUES!