The Toronto Maple Leafs are bringing their farm team home, leaving Newfoundland and the Atlantic provinces without a professional hockey team to call their own.

The St. John's Maple Leafs will play their 14th season in the Newfoundland capital in 2004-2005, but will then move to Toronto.

Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, which owns both teams, on Monday confirmed weeks of speculation about the move.

Bob Hunter, the company's vice-president, said the Maple Leafs would have been happy to have negotiated an extension of their contract in St. John's.

He said the departure of the Edmonton Oilers' Roadrunners American Hockey League farm team from Toronto presented an opportunity that could not be resisted.

Hunter added that the new location would make more economic sense for the Leafs. He also explained the move would make it easier for the Leafs front office to monitor the progress of its developing players.

The loss of the St. John's Maple Leafs removes the last AHL franchise from the Atlantic provinces, ending an era when many teams honed their players in the east.

Some examples:

  • After 10 years, Calgary Flames pulled their AHL team out of Saint John, N.B., in May 2003. Calgary now splits an AHL team, the Lowell Lock Monsters, with the Carolina Hurricanes.
  • The P.E.I. Senators, a farm club for the Ottawa Senators, spent a few seasons at the Charlottetown Civic Centre from 1993-1996 before the franchise moved to Binghamton.
  • Fredericton played host to the AHL Canadiens throughout the 1990s as well, but Montreal's farm team is now the Hamilton Bulldogs.
  • Halifax was the home of three AHL teams from the 1970s to the 1990s: the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the Nova Scotia Oilers, and the Halifax Citadels.
Economic pain can follow the loss of an AHL franchise. Saint John and St. John's both built new sports arenas to either attract or retain an AHL franchise, and all the Maritime cities that lost teams saw a drop in restaurant and hotel receipts the following winter.

Mile One Stadium was built in St. John's when the Leafs considered leaving during the 1990s. Even with generally healthy ticket sales over the years, the stadium and its nearby convention centre have a debt of about $4.5 million.