Canucks owner says Abbotsford one ‘option’ for farm team

Club’s contract with current home of farm team expires at the end of this hockey year

A radio interview by the owner of the Vancouver Canucks has re-ignited discussion about the franchise’s farm team possibly coming to Abbotsford.

Francesco Aquilini was asked during an interview on Sportsnet 650 whether the Canucks’ farm team could move to Abbotsford – a possibility that has been discussed at length since the Calgary Flames’ farm team left town in 2014. The Canucks’ farm team currently plays in Utica, N.Y., but the contract for the arena there expires at the end of this year. The Canucks can choose to extend the contract for another three years.

“There’s a lot of pros and cons,” Aquilini said.

Utica, he said, is a “good hockey town,” and the building there is often full. He also noted that teams playing on the west coast travel much more than those in the east, where the vast majority of farm clubs are located.

“In Abbotsford, there were a lot of complaints because of the travel,” he said. “The costs were higher, and ticket prices were not very high, so there are financial reasons.”

But he continued:

“That’s something that we’re looking at all the time, different markets. The Pacific Coliseum is an option, Abbotsford is an option. Right now, we’re still in the contract … Our guys are still evaluating that … and seeing what makes the most sense.”

This May, after another round of discussion on the topic, Mayor Henry Braun spoke about the topic.

He said he agreed with the “Why not Abbotsford?” and said he has attempted to draw a pro hockey tenant for Abbotsford Centre. But he said an agreement can’t cost taxpayers money, and that the Canucks had previously asked for a revenue guarantee.

RELATED: ‘Why not Abbotsford’: Mayor working to see pro hockey return to city

Abbotsford had already been stung by having to pay million to sustain the Abbotsford Heat, and then millions more in 2014 to end their deal with the Flames.

Several years ago, the Canucks offered to bring the team to Abbotsford, but demanded a revenue guarantee of $7.7 million – around $2 million more than that guaranteed to the Heat. Talks didn’t proceed beyond an early discussion between city manager George Murray and the Canucks, according to Braun, who said this week the deal would have be a bad one for the city.

“We’ve done everything,” Braun said about the quest for a hockey tenant for the Abbotsford Centre. “I’ve tried to open that door three or four times in the last couple of years and they know we have an arena that’s looking for a major tenant.”

Mayoral candidate Eric Nyvall said on Facebook that he thought the city should should try to restart discussions with the Canucks with the hope of reaching a memorandum of understanding that “guarantees a certain revenue.” Nyvall suggested the city itself would then try to market season tickets themselves, with buyers committing to five-year terms. A final deal could be finalized afterwards, he said.

He said he wouldn’t like to see the city sign another revenue guarantee agreement with another hockey team that risks losing money.


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tolsen@abbynews.com

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