It has become increasingly common for NHL clubs to bring their AHL affiliate closer to home, and the Montreal Canadiens will be the most recent example of a parent club bringing their farm team to the same region.
The Canadiens announced Monday that the St. John’s IceCaps will relocate to Laval, Que., ahead of the 2017-18 season and play the campaign out of Place Bell, a state-of-the-art facility that is set to open ahead of the 2017 campaign.
“The relocation of our AHL affiliate in Laval will be beneficial in several ways, allowing for hockey management to follow the organization’s young prospects and provide players and coaching staff with a great environment, a state-of-the-art hockey venue and a new and enthusiastic fan base,” said Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin in a release. “Until the team relocates to Laval, the coaching staff under head coach Sylvain Lefebvre will continue their work of developing our young players and getting them prepared for the next level. I take this opportunity to thank all IceCaps fans for their loyal support, and I am convinced that Laval hockey fans will stand behind their new team.”
The shift from St. John’s to Laval mimics several which have taken place over the past few seasons in the AHL, and sets the tone for at least one more relocation which appears to be coming. The creation of the AHL’s Pacific Division helped the NHL’s Pacific Division teams bring their farm clubs closer to their respective NHL cities, the Manitoba Moose came back into the AHL and play out of the same building as the parent-club Winnipeg Jets, the Tucson Roadrunners will join the league this coming season to play closer to the Arizona Coyotes and reports have the Binghamton Senators uprooting next year to head to Belleville, Ont., to be closer to the NHL Senators.
The relocation is a trend in the AHL, and one that makes a ton of sense for player development, salary cap management and the rare cases of emergency call-ups.
The move to Laval doesn’t come without a certain amount of heartbreak for fans in St. John’s, though. The franchise was already in jeopardy when the Jets, the IceCaps original parent club, switched affiliations to bring the Moose back into the AHL, but the Canadiens announcement of the relocation to Laval puts St. John’s in a place of uncertainty. There’s a good chance this will again signal the loss of an AHL franchise for Newfoundland. It would be the second time in little more than a decade that the AHL has packed up and left the city. The St. John's Maple Leafs departed in 2005.
For Laval, it will mark their first foray into the AHL. The city has played host to the LNAH’s Laval Predators for the past three seasons, but this will be the highest level of hockey played in the city in the modern era.
“I am certain that every Laval resident will soon develop a tight bond with their new team,” said Laval mayor Marc Demers. “We look forward to working together and moving forward with the evolution and success of this team. The arrival of this exciting professional sports entity will not only bring in major economic returns, but it will also introduce an element of identity for our city. This team will bring a sense of social cohesion and pride for our community.”
In order to name the team, the Canadiens are hosting a team-naming contest. Beginning Monday and on through July 22, fans can submit name suggestions on www.placebell.ca. The suggestions will be judged and a select few moved on to a second round of voting that will span from July 26 to Aug. 8. Fans will then vote for three finalists from Aug. 15-31, and a winner will be selected later this year.
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