Portland Pirates sale both surprising and unsurprising

Wednesday afternoon was going along like any other spring workday for me. I was headed home, anticipating a nice cup of coffee and deciding if was going to continue binge watching my latest obsession on Netflix or do a little reading on some of the incoming Worcester Bravehearts players. After a brief phone conversation my whole afternoon plan was out the window.

To be honest, I have no idea why I even looked at my phone. I don’t usually bother answering it when it rings as those that know me usually text me or hit me up on Facebook. But the area code, 416, made me think I should answer. That’s a Toronto number…the capital of hockey.

“Hey Hockeyboy”, the voice on the other end said, “you busy?”. I knew right away who it was on the other end of the call. Usually he’s asking about some player I may have seen, or wanting me to pass some info along to someone else, but with me mostly out of the game this winter I couldn’t figure what he could possibly want.

“Not really”, I replied, “been kinda slow with no hockey here this winter” I added, in case he forgotten the circumstances. I was pretty sure he hadn’t.

He then asked if I had any contacts in Springfield. Now, I used to have tons, but with the Falcons being sold and closing up shop there really isn’t anyone there to talk to. His next line were words that weren’t good news for my friends from Maine. “I need confirmation on something that may have just happened. It seems less than an hour ago the Portland Pirates were sold to a group from Springfield and are moving to the MassMutual Center for next season.”

I immediately started thinking of who I could call to confirm that. Most of the people I know wouldn’t be in a position to know that information, and the people who would know certainly wouldn’t bother telling me. Obviously he was in the same boat as me and I was being used as an intermediary. I needed one of my own, so scrolling through my contacts I went. A few minutes later I stopped looking through names as a Portland TV station broke the news on social media. The Pirates indeed were sold and on the move.

At that point I wasn’t really surprised. During the migration of several AHL teams to the West Coast the Anaheim Ducks forced Norfolk Admirals owner Ken Young to sell them his franchise by threatening to not re-affiliate with the outpost Admirals, which would essentially kill his team. Selling was his only option.

A look at the AHL map after the move west showed that Portland was in the same boat as Norfolk was. I predicted that they’d be in line to be sold to an NHL franchise looking to take full control of their affiliate, probably using the same tactic on the Pirates’ ownership as the Ducks used in Norfolk.

With Portland next to last in attendance in the AHL for 2015-2016 (ironically, only ahead of Springfield) and rumored to be losing a significant amount of money over the last two seasons an announced sale certainly shouldn’t have been eye-opening to anyone paying attention. The part that was surprising was that it wasn’t the Florida Panthers that bought the team, it was Springfield hockey legend Bruce Landon and a large group of local investors.

To say the Panthers were less than excited by the news would be an understatement. You can actually read their unhappiness in their statement released Wednesday night:

“I was informed by Portland CEO Ron Cain today that he has signed a letter of intent to sell the Pirates pending league approval,” Florida Panthers Executive Chairman Peter Luukko said. “We will be in contact with the American Hockey League regarding the sale process. In the meantime, Florida will begin exploring all our options to put our players in the very best developmental situation. We have enjoyed the city of Portland, the venue and the incredible fan support.”

On Twitter Thursday I asked a couple times what happens if the Panthers get all the NHL owned teams to block the sale of the Pirates to the investors from Springfield. I was just tossing the idea of it happening out there to see what people were thinking. I got a few replies, and I just mostly rolled with what they said making conversation.

Getting the sale blocked is probably out of the question. Landon is too well known in hockey circles for any sort of organized effort against his ownership to succeed, and the man almost singlehandedly kept AHL hockey in Springfield for years. There’s no way his buying the Pirates can be blocked on any legitimate grounds.

But what if the Panthers just walk away from their affiliation agreement? It probably wouldn’t take much for a lawyer to find a way out for them if one doesn’t already exist in the contract. What’s the ramifications for the Springfield franchise? Or the AHL? What kind of deal can AHL President Dave Andrews swing to keep his 30 team league rolling along? There really is only one thing that’s certain…

…the surprises aren’t over yet.

-30-

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