Matt MacKenzie and Rocco Grimaldi (Jill Brady/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
The AHL’s Portland Pirates shocked their players, staff and fans when they announced they've signed a letter of intent to sell and relocate the franchise. Springfield, Mass., appears to be the destination for the franchise.
Less than a week after being eliminated from the AHL post-season, the Portland Pirates announced they’ve signed a letter of intent to pack their bags and head elsewhere.
The Pirates, the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers, announced on their website Wednesday that the franchise has signed a letter of intent to relocate the franchise to a new city. No details of the sale were disclosed, and it won’t be final until it’s approved by the AHL Board of Governors, but it appears the franchise could be gone before next season. All season tickets that have been sold will be refunded, the team said.
Portland’s relocation announcement caught nearly everyone off guard, and that includes the team’s players. Veteran goaltender Mike McKenna, who has spent his past two seasons with the Pirates, told the Portland Press Herald that it was a “complete shock.”
“Just the worst news I’ve ever gotten in my life,” McKenna told the Press Herald.
If the team relocates, it will put an end to a 23-year stay in Portland, Maine, and the relocation will come little more than two years after $34 million in renovations were completed on their home at the Cross Insurance Arena. Portland finished with the league’s second-worst attendance this past season at 3,363 per game. The Pirates also had the league’s lowest average attendance in 2014-15 at 2,963. The Press Herald reported the Pirates will only be on the hook for a maximum of $100,000 for breaking their five-year lease on the Cross Insurance Arena.
The destination for the franchise appears to be Springfield, Mass., which lost its longtime AHL team, the Springfield Falcons, when the Arizona Coyotes purchased the team in late-April with the intention of moving it to Tucson.
Springfield mayor Domenic Sarno said in a statement that it “looks like we will be having professional hockey in Springfield for many years to come,” according to MassLive.com. Sarno added he was “very thankful to the broad-based local investor group” that is attempting to bring the team to Springfield, and said he’s hopeful the city will have an AHL team as soon as the upcoming campaign.
Even if the team does relocate to Springfield, though, there are still questions about what this means for the future of the Panthers’ affiliation. Florida became affiliated with the Pirates in 2015-16 after several seasons of AHL affiliation with the San Antonio Rampage.
"I was informed by Portland CEO Ron Cain today that he has signed a letter of intent to sell the Pirates pending league approval," Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko said in a statement. "We will be in contact with the American Hockey League regarding the sale process. In the meantime, Florida will begin exploring all our options to put our players in the very best developmental situation. We have enjoyed the city of Portland, the venue and the incredible fan support.”