For Blues fans, the idea of an independently owned AHL franchise may seem foreign. But they do exist. In fact, 17 of the 30 AHL franchises are independently owned.
The Blues’ last affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen, was owned by the Blues. This summer, owner Tom Stillman decided that it was better to partner with an AHL club rather than own it.
How an independently owned franchise operates was best summed up by Danny Ecker of ChicagoBusiness.com. He stated that independent teams’ rosters include three types of players: those with a contract paid fully by the NHL squad, those with a contract paid for by the AHL team and those who are paid in a “prorated system based on the number of games in which a player appears.”
He also broke down the terms of the Blues’ three-year deal with Chicago, citing that the Blues will send a minimum of 13 players to Chicago whose contracts will be split with the Wolves. If the Blues go over the maximum 17 players, the NHL’s Blues will be forced to pay those salaries completely.
Confused? Let’s look at a specific situation to assist in understanding the process.
Goaltending seems to be the biggest logjam in the current structure. The Blues have three NHL-ready goaltenders heading to camp in a week as Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are all prepared to battle for two spots. Last season, this would not have been a problem as the lesser goalie (at the time, it was Allen) could simply be sent to Peoria to start for the Rivermen since the Blues determined who started for their AHL club. No questions asked.
Now, the third goalie will be sent to the Wolves and would battle with Matt Climie, the Chicago goaltender who was re-signed by the club this summer. Climie had stints with the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes in the NHL, but has mainly been an AHL goaltender. Much like any team in the AHL or NHL, the better goalie will get the starts. After all, the Wolves are in search of the same thing as everyone else: a winning season.
The only difference between Peoria and Chicago is that the Wolves have the final say so, not the management staff in St. Louis.
The operation side sits much in the same boat. Last season, the Blues management named Dave Allison as their head coach and the general manager position was held by Kevin McDonald. In Chicago, team owner Don Levin has kept John Anderson, the franchise’s all-time winningest coach, as the team’s bench boss. The Blues do not have a say in who coaches the players they send to the Wolves.
So with the Blues losing their decision-making power, why make this move to possibly hinder their players’ development?
The Peoria Journal Star reported in April that if the new owners of the Rivermen, the Vancouver Canucks, decided to keep the franchise in Peoria, they would be operating off a $1.5 million operating deficit in 2013-14, based off the prior lease terms with the Blues. This displays that the St. Louis franchise was hemorrhaging money by owning the Rivermen and it would likely continue through another lease.
This allows Stillman & Co. to invest their money elsewhere (Alex Pietrangelo, please stand up).
This also, potentially, takes some of the workload off GM Doug Armstrong’s plate. With a management group working for their own interests, Armstrong doesn’t need to bother himself with filling out an AHL roster. His additions this summer of Keith Aucoin, Alex Bolduc and Mark Mancari look like purely AHL moves, but they come with the tag of potential NHL call-ups when needed.
Although NHL franchises prefer to control every facet of the hockey operations, this is a prime situation for the Blues. The team is on the upswing and ticket sales are picking up. With owner Stillman at the reins, the Blues are looking to spend to the cap and continue to have a contender every season.
I am a former NHL media member and reporter for the St. Louis Blues, working for various media outlets. Currently, I am an NHL News Writer and Editor for The Hockey Writers. I live in St. Louis and work as a freelance copywriter in numerous industries.