Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison says the Chilliwack Bruins have not been sold, nor has any letter of intent been signed between the current ownership group and any potential suitors, including Victoria interests headed by ECHL Salmon Kings owner Graham Lee.
“That is not true,” he said. “There haven’t been any documents filed with the league. Has there been interest expressed? Yes, there has. But there is interest expressed in WHL teams on an ongoing basis. Because there’s such high demand for teams, this is common practice to have this type of rumour out there.”
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The lack of a Prospera Centre lease for next season has added fuel to the fire, but Robison said there are a half dozen teams around the league with expiring leases. All of them are fodder for the rumour mill.
“It’s part of a normal process that there are re-negotiations taking place on several fronts, and sometimes when that occurs there’s more speculation about franchises being sold or re-located,” he conceded. “But that’s part of a normal course of business.”
Bruins co-owner Darryl Porter didn’t give the most comforting response when asked whether the Bruins would be playing in Chilliwack in 2011-12.
Robison was slighty more definitive.
“It is certainly our intent and we haven’t considered anything different at this point,” Robison said when asked the same question.
Victoria is a location that keeps popping up whenever franchise relocation is discussed. With the minor-pro American Hockey League casting its eye to the west, Robison admits the WHL would like to establish itself on Vancouver Island.
“But I haven’t heard that the AHL is interested in Victoria, and that market has expressed a strong interest in having a WHL franchise,” he said. “We are very interested in that possibility, and it’s just been a case of whether we can accommodate that. At this point, we’re not in a position to do that.”
The formula laid out for franchise relocation requires plenty of advance notice for the league, with applications typically required before the end of February. Thus the window for 2011-12 would seem to have closed, but Robison said there is flexibility if the situation demands it.
“Ideally, yes, we would like any application filed well in advance of the time when we do our scheduling, however, we would not eliminate it on that basis,” he said. “But before getting to relocation, a change of ownership requires league approval. We have not scheduled any meetings at this time, and our next board of governors meeting is in June. If circumstances change, we would have to go through a rather lengthy process to evaluate either a change of ownership or relocation, and that is subject to a vote by the board of governors.”
The commissioner said the league remains happy with Chilliwack as a market, even as the AHL has moved in down the freeway and attendance has dipped.
“We would like to see better support, but we have a high level of confidence in Chilliwack,” he said. “We believed in it five years ago and we continue to believe in its ability to support a WHL franchise.”