February 24 2013 12:27PM
An odd rumor (news?) this morning. The Uitca Observer Dispatch is reporting the Flames will be moving their AHL affiliate team to the Utica New York for the 2014-15 season, abandoning the Abbotsford experiment after just five years.
Here's what we do know, according to a reliable source. A 10-year deal has been struck with the Flames. There had been discussion in previous months that an AHL affiliate could be relocated to Utica, but not until the 2014-'15 season, due to scheduling issues. As far as any opt-out clause in the deal, I don't know for sure if or when one has been added. However, you would think an escape route, for both parties ( local operators and the Flames ) would/should want one. 10 years is infinity and beyond in any relationship.
A lobbying firm in Albany is involved with those locally who will be managing the franchise. Two sources have informed us that public money is being pursed in conjunction with the return of professional hockey to Utica. There are a few phases of upgrades to the Aud planned. Skyboxes are in the plans to be added to the 54-year old arena, however it isn't clear at this time during what planning phase work will get under way.
That from the Utica OB blog today.
On the one hand, it makes sense for the Flames to be looking elsewhere. Abbotsford has consistently finished at the bottom of the league in terms of attendance. The only time the team gets any interest from the locals is when the Chicago Wolves (Vancouver's afiiliate) visits.
On the other hand, the Flames had themsevles a very cozy relationship with the city of Abbotsford. Calgary was indemnified for any losses by the tax payers, meaning they were guaranteed to at least break even every year, no matter how poorly the club actually did financially. If Utica has convinced Calgary to move on, they must be offering something similarly enticing (beyond, perhaps, a potentially more robust AHL market).
The Flames AHL affiliate has become a bit of a nomad since the team purchased their own club in 2005. Since then, there have been stop-overs in Omaha (2005 - 2007), Quad Cities (2007-2009), Abbotsford (2009-2014) and now, potentially, Utica (2014-?).
No official word or confirmation from the Flames, so we'll treat this as a high-level rumor for now.