The question not on everybody’s mind through the past few weeks is what will happen to Vancouver’s American Hockey League affiliate once a National League team officially moves to Winnipeg.
The Vancouver Canucks and Manitoba Moose have had a harmonious relationship for years, since the folding of the defunct International League. In 2001 the Moose jumped aboard with the Canucks, and, in a league where cities and affiliates are re-located year after year, it was good for the Canucks to have a stable proving ground.
Winnipeg and Vancouver, of course, never got along in the Jets NHL days. As Smythe Division rivals, the teams played a pair of playoff series in consecutive years in 1992 and 1993, with Vancouver coming out on top in seven and six games, respectively. But as tides turned, the dollar dropped, and the Jets became the Coyotes, this changed.
The Moose development staff have been instrumental in key free agent pickups for Vancouver. Alex Burrows, now a first line player for Vancouver, was initially scouted by then-General Manager Craig Heisinger. Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has a lot of mileage on the NHL Coach of the Year nominees list, and took the award home in 2007, his first year with the Canucks, after being “called up” from the Moose. NHL vacancies have also been filled by former Manitoba coaches Randy Carlyle and Scott Arniel, who parlayed success with the Manitoba system into an NHL job.
In short, that was one world-class system Vancouver had in Winnipeg.
A Newfoundland newspaper, St. John’s Telegram, reports today that Moose will relocate to the Mile One Centre in Canada’s Easternmost city. For a club that already operates far from its affiliate, a move further east is sorry news for Vancouver, particularly when a city just East of Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, has reportedly been bulking up its arena for an AHL bid in a market that’s too far East to be served by the Western Hockey League and too far West to be served by the Ontario Hockey League.
Distance is a particular issue when sorting affiliates. The 1866-km trek between Vancouver and Winnipeg was already the sixth longest gap between affiliates in the NHL. 14 of the 30 teams are within 500 kms. Travel distance between St. John’s and Vancouver is an arduous 7248 km, which would be the largest in the NHL by a wide margin (currently held by the Worcester and San Jose Sharks, 4255 kms).
Should the baby Canucks land in Saint John’s, the jubliation of an NHL call-up for a player might be offset by the prospect of a six hour cross-Canada flight from coast to coast. With distance becoming an issue, so, too, might the team have to change affiliates in the coming years. The report indicates that the Saint John’s team would be a Winnipeg farm team, so after a year of shared affiliation, the Canucks would have to find an affiliate for the first time in years.
And, once this is sorted out, there’s still the issue of finding a place for the ECHL’s Salmon Kings, as the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins have relocated to Victoria, potentially dislodging Vancouver’s second-tier affiliate.
Addendum The Canucks agreement with the Moose organization lasts for one more season. The Atlanta Thrashers agreement with their affiliate Chicago Wolves has expired.