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If Bulldogs Become Strays, They Could Wind Up Here(st John's).


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Not sure where to put this.

"Talk about your win-win situations. If the NHL should land in Hamilton’s lap, that city’s current hockey tenant — the AHL’s Bulldogs – will be on the move, possibly to St. John’s.

There are a whole lot of ifs and buts to this story, which is beginning to unfold in a Phoenix bankruptcy court.

As Jim Balsillie forges ahead in his quest to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes and relocate them to Hamilton, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, steadfast in his belief hockey can remain viable in Arizona, would like nothing better than to see Balsillie’s plans scorched in the desert.

Needless to say, it’s headed for a doozy of a showdown.

But we know all that, right?

This much we don’t know. Bulldogs owner Michael Andlauer is one angry mutt, and might be taking his bone to another doghouse for the 2010-11 AHL season.

Andlauer told the Hamilton Spectator Monday he’s making contingency plans beyond that season and his list of possible places to relocate the Bulldogs includes St. John’s and an unnamed Florida city, believed to be Naples, on the state’s Gulf Coast.

His AHL club is entering the final year of a five-lease next season and Andlauer is upset that since talk of the NHL and Hamilton began in earnest a week or two ago, the AHL club has been brushed off to the side.

In fact, Andlauer said not a single official from the city has made as much as a courtesy call to him, despite the fact the Bulldogs have called Hamilton home for 13 seasons.

Balsillie hopes to get the city to agree to a permanent lease that would see his NHL club play out of 24-year-old Copps Coliseum until a new rink is constructed.

St. John’s might make sense for Andlauer. It’s a proven AHL hockey market, having been home to the St. John’s Maple Leafs for 14 years, and should the Montreal Canadiens farm team land in Newfoundland, the betting is season ticket sales would climb towards — or even surpass — the 4,000 mark.

Then there’s the Stanford factor. Andlauer’s chief lieutenant in Hamilton, Glenn Stanford, is a well-known St. John’s native who ran the AHL Leafs for 14 years.

Certainly, neither AHL nor NHL teams can no longer argue geography works against St. John’s, not with the arrival of the expansion franchise in Abbotsford, B.C.

Abbottsford’s nearest rival, Winnipeg, is a three-hour flight away, same as a St. John’s-Toronto return trip.

But before St. John’s hockey fans start lining up for season tickets, consider this: we’re a long way before the St. John’s Canadiens hit the ice, if it ever happens.

For starters, Andlauer has to be virtually kicked out of Hamilton by the NHL, and that’s far from a slam dunk.

Secondly, the Montreal Canadiens have to agree on St. John’s, though there doesn’t appear to be any huge problems that would scare off the NHL team. There are a couple of return flights leaving St. John’s for Montreal each day.

And thirdly, Andlauer hinted in the Spectator he wouldn’t remain interested in owning the team if it wasn’t playing in Hamilton, near his Burlington home.

So if that’s the case, who here is buying? The city? Not on your life. The premier? Nah, too many other things to worry about right now.

What about Stanford and a few investors, bringing the city on board in a public/private partnership? Now that one could have legs.

Certainly, the whole idea of St. John’s even mentioned with the AHL again is encouraging to Gerry Smith, who heads up St. John’s Sports and Entertainment.

“This franchise is certainly … it’s a good franchise,” Smith said last night. “We’re certainly interested in talking.”

Turns out the whole Balsille-Phoenix thing has more on the line than a seventh NHL team for Canada after all."

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.

He can be reached by email

at rshort@thetelegram.com

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