Nfld. & Labrador

'Time is ticking,' says group bidding to bring Maple Leafs-affiliated team to St. John's

One of the leaders of a bid to bring ECHL hockey to Mile One Centre in St. John's is frustrated that talks with the city are on hold.

Dean MacDonald says ECHL group is frustrated by lack of response from city council

Dean MacDonald says his group's bid to bring an ECHL team to St. John's is getting the cold shoulder from City Hall. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

One of the leaders of a bid to bring ECHL hockey to Mile One Centre in St. John's is frustrated that talks with the city are on hold.

Dean MacDonald told CBC News his group — which he confirmed is bringing a Toronto Maple Leafs-affiliated expansion ECHL team to St. John's for next season — has been getting "zero response" from the city in recent days regarding its bid. 

"We've been waiting. We've been asking what the status is with the city but they won't take our calls and they won't give us an answer," he said.

If they don't want us to put a team here, look, we'll take our franchise, we'll go somewhere else.- Dean MacDonald

"We've invested a couple million dollars to bring a franchise here. We own a franchise, we just don't have anywhere to play at this point. Obviously the ECHL can't wait forever and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment can't wait forever, so time is ticking."

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says the contract with the ownership of the St. John's Edge basketball team — which is working on a competing bid to bring hockey to the arena — stipulates that negotiations be suspended once arbitration is requested, as the Edge group has done.

Edge group disputes deadline

The Edge group's contract with the city gives it the right to bring a hockey team to Mile One until March 2019, but if another group brings a bid that meets certain conditions, the Edge group would have a shortened period of time to bring forth a counterbid.

MacDonald said the ECHL proposal met those conditions and its correspondence to the city said the Edge group had until Jan. 22 to bring a team in.

"They obviously haven't. They don't have a team. We know that through our contacts in hockey in the various leagues," he said.

"I guess at this point they're disputing what the city says, which is basically there's a limited amount of time they have, once someone else comes forward, to ice a team."

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen says negotiations are suspended until arbitration is finished. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

The Edge group contends the MacDonald bid — which also includes former St. John's IceCaps chief operating officer Glenn Stanford — doesn't satisfy the conditions to trigger the deadline for them to bring forth their own bid, which is why they've requested arbitration.

Breen told CBC that the city is in the process of appointing an arbitrator.

"Once that process is finished, then we'll see where we are."

The people who are suffering are the citizens.- Dean MacDonald

MacDonald said the fact that arbitration has supposedly started is news to him.

"We haven't been told that. The city encouraged us to apply, which we did, and we followed all the process. We just can't get the courtesy of someone to tell us what the hell's going on," he said.

"The people who are suffering are the citizens. There's 40-plus dates won't be here next year. The bars, restaurants hotels, they should be frustrated this isn't happening."

'Frustrating for everybody involved'

Breen said he understands MacDonald's frustration.

"It is frustrating. It's frustrating for everybody involved, but there is a contract in place and the arbitration clause in the contract has been raised, and so that has to be dealt with before we can move forward."

But MacDonald said he feels like his group is getting the cold shoulder.

"If they don't want us to put a team here, look, we'll take our franchise, we'll go somewhere else. It's disappointing, because I think it'd be really good to have it," he said.

"The Leafs want to come here and use this as a beachhead for future generations of the hockey club, in terms of their trainers and coaches, players, so what a wonderful opportunity. And we own the franchise, so it won't be moving."

With files from Fred Hutton