Oklahoma City Council Approves AHL Franchise

oklahoma

Patrick Laforge has been making noises this past week about putting an AHL franchise in Oklahoma City, something that the local papers jumped on after the CHL’s Blazers ceased operations to make room for an AHL club. Today, the possibility of Oilers’ prospects playing in Oklahoma is one step closer to reality.

From the Associated Press:

The council on Tuesday unanimously authorized a lease agreement between the city and a group that would operate a prospective AHL franchise. The deal would bring professional hockey to the Cox Convention Center beginning in the 2010-2011 season.

CanWest has had the odd report on this situation >since March, but back in November NewsOK reported that the Oilers were considering the city.

When those first reports came out, I wrote an article here at OilersNation detailing some of the pros and cons of moving the farm team to Oklahoma. The full article has more details, but here’s the basic list of pros and cons:

Pros – Oklahoma City…

  • is closer to Edmonton than Springfield is
  • is closer to the Oilers’ ECHL team in Stockton than Springfield is
  • has a newer, bigger, arena than Springfield does
  • has an CHL franchise that consistently draws better than 6000 fans per game and has led the Central Hockey League in attendance for 16 straight years; Springfield struggles to get 4000 fans a game (although admittedly the on-ice product being lousy probably has something to do with that)

Cons

  • *crickets*

The recent expressions of interest by Laforge make for a fun contrast to what he was saying back in November:

“That’s a long way off, and as the team’s chief executive officer, it’s my responsibility to look at all of our options. Who knows what the world may bring by then? But we are very happy with what is happening in Springfield.”

More interesting was this quote from Robert Funk Jr., the head of Express Sports – the company that owned the Blazers and is set to form a partnership with the Oilers to run their AHL franchise. From the Republican article linked above:

“There is no basis to that story,” said Robert Funk Jr.

Funk said if a new pro hockey team were to come to Oklahoma City, Blazers management would almost certainly be involved.

“Part of our mandate with the city is to look for a higher level of franchise, from the AHL level or even, someday, with an NHL team,” Funk said. “There is no viability for it at this time, and I don’t expect it in the (foreseeable) future.”

In any case, the Oilers will almost certainly move their AHL franchise to Oklahoma City for 2010-11 after providing two seasons of low quality teams to the fans in Springfield, as well as whatever they see on the ice this season. This is a good decision for the Oilers, but I do feel for the fans in Springfield: they’ve consistently supported a lousy AHL team stocked by sad-sack NHL franchises – Phoenix, Tampa Bay, and now Edmonton. Hopefully they get another affiliation; even more hopefully it will be with a team that believes a winning tradition throughout its farm system develops players more likely to win in the NHL.