Monday, January 19, 2009

Merritt to Kamloops? UPDATED

UPDATE: Ryan Pinder has an interview with the commish over at the Vees Blog. He says there is no application and "nothing has been approved." Is someone lying? Is John Grisdale saying Barry Dewar is misinformed? Was Dewar misquoted or did he not have the facts? Did the league perhaps agree with the concept in principal at these meetings but there's nothing official yet? There are still a ton of questions here I have to say I'm inclined to think that where there's smoke there's fire. Brian Weibe doesn't necessarily share my doom and gloom viewpoint over at Making Cents. I just want to say for the record that I am not advocating for Merritt to leave the BCHL nor would I take any joy in it. I simply think a move to Kamloops could have some advantages given the way the Merritt situation has crumbled.


It looks like the Merritt folks enjoyed trading so much at the deadline that they might be trading teams. Could the Cents become a Junior B team while the BCHL franchise ends up in Kamloops?

I've heard rumblings about this, but of course you can't say anything until someone spills the beans on the record. Well it looks like the owner of the KIJHL's Kamloops Storm has done just that to the Kamloops Daily News. Gregg Drinnan has the scoop over at his Taking Note blog.
"Barry Dewar, the owner of the KIJHL’s Kamloops Storm, said Friday that a BCHL franchise has approached him about relocating to Kamloops.
Dewar said that Al Glendinning, the general manager and head coach of the Merritt Centennials, has asked him about the possibility of their teams switching locations, the Centennials moving to Kamloops, and the Storm to Merritt.
According to Dewar, the BCHL approved the sale of the Centennials by the Merritt Centennials Hockey Club Society at a meeting in Vernon earlier this week.
Dewar said he does not know who is involved in the group that bought the franchise.
Dewar also said the BCHL at that same meeting approved the relocation of the franchise to Kamloops."
Wow, that's pretty much spilling the whole bag of beans. A couple of months back I read the rumour on the BCHL message board that Glendinning would be involved in an ownership group that would try to move the Cents to Kamloops. He used to be an assistant coach for the Blazers in the WHL. If the sale is approved and the move is approved (only Dewar is saying this publicly) than I guess it's only Dewar and the Storm standing in the way of a move to Kamloops.

However, folks in Merritt are scratching their heads because of what Commissioner John Grisdale said to Making Cents blogger Brian Wiebe at the end of December.

"We have a deadline for applications as a December 1rst and there was no application in league offices for that on December 1rst."

So they must be wondering how could the Cents move next season if there was no application by the league's deadline? Frankly, I think these kinds of regulations are easy enough to break if you're dealing with a dying franchise. Grisdale also talked about the importance of a franchise being viable and being able to meet their budget. If Merritt can't draw more than a couple of hundred fans at most how can they realistically continue operating? Their building is one of the lets say least modern in the league, their attendance is the worst in the league by a wide margin (drawing a reported average of 460 which is a generous number based on the games I've been to) and they have a horrible time getting players to report to town after trades.

There are some wonderful and loyal volunteers and fans involved in the Merritt organization. They have a long and important history in this league. However, at some point is the writing on the wall?

Some Cents fans would say they need to start fresh with a new coaching and management staff. If they could generate some on ice success could the team start drawing? How have they done in previous seasons at the gate?

08-09: 460 (last place team)
07-08: 581 (last place team)
06-07: 607 (near .500 with Pierro-Zabotel in the line-up)
05-06: 663 (winning team with 33 wins in fourth place)
04-05: 624 (close to .500 sixth place team)
03-04: 473 (winning team with 29 wins in fourth place)

So what we're seeing here is that with a pretty good team Merritt had drawn a max of 663 fans. That would still be the second worst numbers in the BCHL this season. However, given Merritt's relatively easy travel schedule I would think that kind of support might be enough to keep the team in town.

However, is it too late? Has the team gone too far off the deep end for it to be pulled back from the brink? I'm not sure if there were 200 people there last time we were in town.

As for Kamloops as a possible BCHL market, I think it might work. I can't find any attendance numbers for the Storm, but I've heard from several people that they can draw some pretty big crowds. It would likely be much easier to recruit top talent as Kamloops is a bigger market with a WHL team right in town. That means a chance to get attention from more pro scouts, college scouts and even WHL scouts if that's something they're interested in. There is a bigger population base to draw from, more businesses to target for potential sponsorship and it is a central enough location that their travel costs would still be quite limited in comparison to teams like Trail, Williams Lake, Quesnel and PG.

However, a Junior A team would obviously get second billing to the Blazers. Is there enough room in the market for both? They make it work relatively well in Prince George. If the KIJHL team does do as well as I'm told, they do it while charging $10 for tickets. That's only a dollar less than it costs to go to a Merritt game so it's not like the current fans would be priced out of the games.

They might also have a pretty decent core to build around if Glendinning got some good young talent among all those "future considerations" deals at the trade deadline. I know there must be a few players mixed in with the cash.

You never like to see anyone lose their team, but this might be the best case scenario for the BCHL. It might be the best thing for Merritt too. If they could get a Junior B team for next season or a couple of years down the road it might be a more realistic recipe for success. The KIJHL is great hockey too.

I also think there is a real possibility that the team could go dormant like Williams Lake did a couple of seasons ago. I have no evidence to back that up, but if the new owners want to move to Kamloops and can't get a deal done in time for next season, are they going to want to spend a season in Merritt as a "lame duck" team? Who would support a franchise they knew was moving? They'd have to at least have a little hope I would think.

Personally I'd still like to see another team closer to Trail. Nelson anyone? I'll keep banging that drum until it happens...

What do you think?


Ryan Pinder said...

Just to clarify the Dec 1st deadline... That's for EXPANSION.

The league will deal with franchise sales and relocations as they happen.

As of today no application for a move or sale has been submitted by Merritt.

Shawn said...

My information was taken directly from John Grisdale's interview with Brian. I've transcribed what he said:

Brian Weibe: "Now what is the timeline for something like relocation to happen. Again it might not be specific here to Merritt but I mean is it something that could be possible for the 09-10 season."

John Grisdale: "I can't speak to that specifically, we have a deadline for applications as of December 1rst and there was no application in the league office for that as of December 1rst. I can't speak directly to it again our regluation is December 1rst and there was no application from any franchise on relocation."

Now today when you interview him he said:

John Grisdale: "We have a regulation in our league that has a date specific to a expansion which is December 1rst of any given year. There's nothing there's no expansion for the BC hockey league in 09-10. As far sale of a franchise or relocation there has been no application from any member club on the sale or relocation of it."

Which is it? Perhaps he was mistaken when talking to Brian, but he was answering a pretty specific question.

Could be a simple mistake as I'm sure if you analyzed everything I say that I'd get a ton of things wrong all the time.