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The Toronto Maple Leafs may be moving their ECHL team to St. John’s, is it the right move?

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I love you Newfoundland, but you’re not the right fit.

St. John's Maple Leafs at Hamilton Bulldogs
Maple Leafs legend Marc Moro captained the St. John’s Leafs in their final season
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, Robin Short of the St. John’s Telegram has been reporting that there are two interested parties in bringing an ECHL team to the currently hockey-less Mile One Stadium in the capital of the country’s smallest timezone.

St. John’s isn’t new territory for the Maple Leafs, their AHL team was in St. John’s for 14 years after leaving Newmarket in 1991 and moving to Toronto in 2005, amid the boom of AHL teams on the east coast. After the Leafs left they tried to fill the gap with the QMJHL St. John’s Fog Devils, and the AHL IceCaps who were affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets* and Montreal Canadiens.

St. John’s is a great town and would be a great host for a hockey team but...not the Toronto Maple Leafs. At least in my opinion.

The Maple Leafs moved their AHL team from St. John’s to Toronto to keep the prospects close and make promotions and demotions easier. It wasn’t about drawing bigger crowds - the Marlies average attendance for the first few seasons was below what it was in St. John’s in Mile One Stadium. It wasn’t about making the team more profitable, it was about access between the NHL and AHL teams. The Marlies now practice in the same facility as the Maple Leafs, being promoted or demoted is as simple as walking down the hall to a new changing room. No worrying about getting a hotel for players to stay in since they’re not actually moving.

It’s not about profits, since the Marlies are one of the cheaper AHL teams to go watch - you can get tickets for $10 which are cheaper than any OHL team nearby, heck it costs me that much to see my local JrB team. They also outspend almost every AHL team on operating costs - the food, training facilities are all NHL standard. They even have two buses for the players to travel on, which is nearly unheard of.

This is all about keeping the players close so their progress and development can be monitored and run by Maple Leafs staff and hopefully there isn’t as much of a shock moving from one team to another.

What does this have to do with the ECHL moving to St. John’s?

The Maple Leafs have a closer option for their secondary affiliate. The Brampton Beast.

Only a 33 minute drive away from the Air Canada Centre (lol, come on Google) is a 5,000 seat arena that already has a team up and running. The Beast pull an average of 3,000 people per game (lower than the Solar Bears average of 5,500), but an affiliation with the Maple Leafs could help that grow.

There are pros and cons to the Beast compared to what we would see in St. John’s.

The pro side is access to the players - no more flights from Orlando for a call up, you can discuss things with the coaching staff in person or over the phone, have them come down to the MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence (what a name for the practice rink) whenever needed for some work at the Leafs facilities.

You can make the Maple Leafs truly Toronto’s hockey team with all three levels of hockey in the organization in driving distance of each other. The community outlook on the team would be substantially changed, going from some local team that only the most diehard fans would be into to some local team that only the most diehard fans would be into and are affiliated with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It sounds silly but that last part would have a huge impact on how the team is covered by Toronto based papers (it current isn’t) and radio (nope) and TV (lol). Not that the Marlies are covered any better but they get some mentions which is valuable to a team looking to get butts in the seats.

The Leafs Nation Network (LeafsTV) would get more content to add, since it would be close by and cheap to work into the schedule.

The cons?

Not a three hour flight away?

Okay, there are some legitimate concerns the Leafs could have.

It could become another money sink. The Beast have already gone hat in hand to the city of Brampton asking for help with operating costs. The Beast average around 3,000 people per game which isn’t enough to cover costs (obviously) and we’ve already seen one team leave town over this issue - the OHL Brampton Battalion left for North Bay after trying to make things work for 10 years at the Powerade Centre and that’s a more established league in Ontario.

The Leafs also wouldn’t have full control. Just like in Orlando the team is privately owned and how things are run and how much is spent would be out of the Leafs control. This could be fixed with the Leafs buying the team or a share of the team, but how much would be asked by an existing owner looking for a cash infusion from the money rich Maple Leafs, as compared to getting in on the ground floor in St. John’s?

Getting rid of the Canadiens may not be easy, breaking or altering the affiliation contract could cost them extra money and the mood may not be there to improve things for another teams prospects either in a shared affiliation deal.

What about Orlando?

The Leafs have been affiliated with the Orlando Solar Bears since 2013, and liked them enough to renew the agreement in 2016. There are always flights from Toronto to Orlando so travel isn’t very stressful to book but it’s still four or five hours away, making call ups something that needs to be planned farther ahead than the day of.

The fan base is established, the Solar Bears are usually in the top five of ECHL attendance, with numbers rivaling the Toronto Marlies.

Finally, and most importantly, if there are no more Solar Bears, that means no more Shades.

Kyle Dubas and Shades the Bear
Kyle Dubas and Shades the Bear
Achariya

Ultimately it’s up to the Maple Leafs to decide what they want to do with their affiliations and money. They’re probably one of the few teams who can underwrite the cost of a team in St. John’s and not feel it too much. Travel is insane on and off the rock, the closest ECHL team is the Manchester Monarchs, a 2,300km drive away and flying everywhere isn’t something the Marlies do.

They also like control and making sure things are up to their standards and an ownership stake in a St. John’s team would give them a fair amount of weight to throw around.

I would make a move on Brampton if at all possible, but I assume the Leafs have already done that and that’s why St. John’s is in the rumour mill.

Poll

Where should the Maple Leafs ECHL affiliate be?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador
    (322 votes)
  • 40%
    Brampton, Ontario
    (321 votes)
  • 19%
    Orlando, Florida
    (158 votes)
801 votes total Vote Now