Could the Portland Pirates be heading for another affiliation change?
It appears that way based on reports from both the Association Press and WGRZ in Buffalo, NY indicating the Buffalo Sabres have signed a nonbinding letter of intent to purchase the Rochester Americans, which would effectively end their relationship with the Pirates.
Some within AHL circles have believed for sometime that the Sabres could be shifting their minor league operations back to Rochester, NY where they spent 29 years prior to moving to Portland back in 2008.
Pirates Managing Owner/CEO Brian Petrovek characterized the situation as speculation and chatter, pointing to the fact that the team has an “ironclad” contract with the Sabres through the 2013-‘14 season.
“The best way to characterize it is speculation is what it is. Chatter is what it is. I think (Sabres owner) Terry (Pegula) and (Sabres team president) Ted Black have done a good job getting themselves focused on the Buffalo business. I’ve got a three-year deal and that’s what we have and that’s what we stand behind. We will just have to continue to do our business on what we now know.”
“What we know is we have three years left iron clad and Buffalo has an option for two more.”
The Sabres were purchased by Pennsylvania businessman Terry Pegula back in February and during his initial press conference at the time he questioned why Sabres were in Portland, not in Rochester, NY, where they’ve been for more than a quarter century.
“To show you how “the fan” in you might not be the right way to react,” said Pegula at the press conference. “The fan in me said why did (Buffalo) pull out of Rochester. They’re so close, easy to move players back and forth and then I started to hear about Portland and I’ve never been there, but everybody tells me what a beautiful minor league city Portland is. “You guys ought to be thankful you’re there”, it’s a great place, and the players love it there.”
According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Amerks Owner Curt Styres refused to comment on the news; likewise, the Sabres have refused comment.
The Rochester Americans have been unhappy with their relationship with the Florida Panthers, letting their three-year affiliation agreement expire this past season.
They’ve been in search for a new affiliate since and that’s when rumors of a possible reunification of the two Western New York franchises began to heat up.
That wasn’t something unexp
ected by Petrovek based on the circumstances surrounding the new ownership of the Sabres.
“When Terry was introduced as the new owner and with Terry’s wife (Kim) connection to the Rochester suburb (Fairpoint, NY) and Terry’s history going back with the Sabres to when Rochester and Buffalo were together.”
“When those questions were brought up in the press conference, there begins the chatter.”
“But, the Rochester chatter continues to linger as you would expect it too as (Pegula) finished his first segment as an owner and prepare for his first full season as an owner. Until you hear it from me or them. It’s speculation.”
When the Pirates were eliminated from the playoffs earlier this month, Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier spoke with Maine Hockey Journal about the potential rumors of the Sabres leaving Portland.
Regier said he plans on the Sabres returning to Portland, but there was a lot of ambiguity in his statement.
“That’s the plan right now, “said Regier on returning to Portland. “This has been a great relationship. The city is terrific. There are no negatives. I guess you could point to the geographical as the only one. It’s been a great relationship for us and right now our relationship remains with the Portland Pirates.”
Should the Sabres finalize the deal and move forward with a buyout of their remaining contract with the Pirates, it will leave the Pirates looking for their fourth affiliate in seven years and who that next affiliate will be will hinge on a series of dominos falling into place.
One such domino is the situation in Winnipeg where they are poised to possibly obtain an NHL franchise, forcing them to relocate their minor league franchise or shutter it for a season.
It’s expected that Tampa Bay will announce shortly that they will be leaving the Norfolk Admirals for the Syracuse Crunch, which will leave the Anaheim Ducks looking for a new parent club. They were affiliated with the Pirates from 2005-’08 before heading Des Moines.
There is also the belief that Florida will move their affiliation to Norfolk, Virginia to be closer to their base of operation in Miami.
“I think the best way to characterize it is off-season activity is what it is,” Petrovek said in reference to silly season. “It’s gets a little more complicated because other pieces were not in queue to be in place. It could become part of a bigger opportunity for the league as it sees multiples moves benefiting the entire business.”