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Wednesdays FTB: Are the OHL Mississauga Steelheads moving?

The OHL teams lease is up soon and the owner is playing the relocation game

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Barrie Colts v Mississauga Steelheads Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images

Last night, ahead of the Mississauga Steelheads 2-1 victory over the Barrie Colts, The Athletics Sean Fitz-Gerald dropped an article to make every fish fan faint: Mississauga Steelheads owner considering offers to sell or move the OHL franchise.

The article is locked but the juicy bits are here:

Claiming to have lost more than $2-million over six years as owner, Elliott Kerr is now weighing offers to relocate or sell the Mississauga Steelheads, the last Ontario Hockey League franchise left standing in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area.

....

“I sell it or move it,” he said. “I’m not prepared to continue to lose the kind of money I’ve been losing. But I still see light. I still think there’s hope. And the next six months will pretty much dictate it.”

The existing lease expires after the season, 20 years after it was first signed. Mississauga has hosted a trio of different OHL brands at Hershey Centre through the course of that lease, first with the IceDogs, which have since relocated to St. Catharines, and then the St. Michael’s Majors, which were rebranded as the Steelheads in 2012.

“Right now, we’ll be here for another season,” said Kerr. “But beyond the other season, it’s going to come down to how the negotiations go with the city. That’s what it’s going to come down to.”

.....

He declined to identify the parties interested in acquiring the franchise — either through relocation or through outright purchase. (The Brampton Battalion moved to North Bay the same year Kerr bought the Steelheads.)

“I’ve got three centres in Ontario and one in New York State,” he said. “I’ve had dialogue with all of them.”

So, he could just be playing lease games with the city of Mississauga, but he makes some valid points about whats going against the team:

  • Competition with Toronto for event dollars
  • Lack of local media, including the community access channel (Rogers TV) shutting down
  • No public transit heading to the arena
  • Poor development of lands around the arena

All of these things will hurt any OHL team, and in a trend where arenas are kept in the community, built downtown near shopping, restaurants, and transit (Windsor’s desert landscape around the WFCU Centre aside).

What if he’s not just playing lease games? What are his options? Well, I wrote this up back when the Peterborough Petes were making noise, and you can read that here. Since the owner mentioned ‘three Ontario cities and one in New York’ my guesses are:

Cornwall, Ontario
OHL ready arena, home to former QMJHL, OHL, and AHL teams

Chatham, Ontario
Always in the mix whenever relocation of teams is brought up

Brantford, ON
A good temp arena exists, and it would be a great rivalry with Hamilton.

Buffalo, NY
The OHL has been gazing lovingly at Buffalo for years and to me, right now, this is the most likely option. The OHL has played Erie Otters games at the Key HSBC Marine Midland Memorial Bank Auditorium Centre and recently hosted a pre-season tournament there this past fall.

Whatever happens, one thing is for sure: It should trigger the league to re-align itself after the Belleville to Hamilton move, which was THREE YEARS AGO AND JUST DO IT ALREADY.

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Enjoy the day!