It's official: Baby Leafs are leaving
The Toronto Maple Leafs are bringing their farm team home, leaving St. John's without a professional hockey team to call its own.
The team will play in St. John's for the 2004-2005 season, but then will relocate to Toronto.
Bob Hunter, vice-president of Toronto Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, confirmed weeks of speculation Monday afternoon in St. John's.
Hunter says the Toronto Maple Leafs would have been happy to have negotiated an extension of their contract in St. John's.
However, the departure of the Roadrunners hockey team to Edmonton presented an opportunity to relocate the Baby Leafs to a new venue. The Roadrunners had been playing in Ricoh Coliseum.
Bottom line drives decision
Hunter says the new location will make more economic sense for the Leafs. The team says its bottom line has been hurt by its high franchise fee, sluggish ticket sales and expensive travel. There are no other American Hockey League teams in Atlantic Canada.
Hunter says the move will also make it easier for the Leafs front office to monitor the progress of its developing players.
Shannie Duff, who was mayor of St. John's when the city won the rights to the Leafs' junior franchise, says the team underperformed after a strong start. The team made it to the Calder Cup final in 1992.
"That had something to do with the quality of hockey," Duff says. "So I do think that was a problem with the bums in seats."
Glenn Stanford, chief of hockey operations for the St. John's Maple Leafs, admits it might be difficult to sell tickets for what amounts to a "lame duck" season this year.
However, he says the team's management has to take a business-as-usual approach.
"We can't worry about that," Stanford says. "We're just going to move forward and continue the work and do things as we've done in the off-season for the last 14 years, and we'll do it again this season."
The loss of the Leafs poses a serious problem for St. John's city council.
Mile One Stadium was built when the Leafs had threatened to leave during the 1990s.
The stadium opened in May 2001. The stadium and its nearby convention centre have a total debt of about $4.5 million.