ROCHESTER (LGS) — As the Rochester Americans hit the quarter-pole of the 2007-08 AHL season, the predominant story is not that of a potential 50 goal scorer, but rather one of the league's oldest affiliations between the Buffalo Sabres and Americans.
Over the last two weeks it has grown increasingly likely that the 29-year-old relationship between the Sabres and Amerks will be over as season's end.
Sabres' owner and CEO, Thomas Golisano made statements on Tuesday that did nothing to quiet these rumors, telling the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle “It may be too late” to save the partnership.
The two sides have feuded since the late 1990s and well into the early 2000s. The root of the problem is finances. Amerks' owner Steve Donner wants Buffalo to assume most of the Amerks' operating costs, while Buffalo feels that should fall on the Amerks.
“The cash position of the Rochester Americans hasn't been the greatest," Golisano said in the Democrat and Chronicle. "We think it affects their attendance, our attendance. We think it affects our players' morale (in Rochester).
"We send them our players; we don't want to have them unhappy."
Minority owner Randy Latona has made claims in New York State courts that Donner is nearly broke, and demanded that he sell his share of team ownership.
If Buffalo was to leave, there are not many options for Rochester. Most National Hockey League teams prefer to have their prospects play close to the parent city. Each of the nearest NHL teams have strong relationships with their AHL cities; Toronto (Toronto), Boston (Providence), NY Rangers (Hartford), NY Islanders (Bridgeport), New Jersey (Lowell), Pittsburgh (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton), Philadelphia (Philadelphia) and Columbus (Syracuse).
One team that has been rumored to hook up with Rochester is the Montreal Canadiens. Their working agreement with the Hamilton Bulldogs expires after the current season. It would seem logical for the Canadiens to re-up with Hamilton, having just won the Calder Cup there last season; however, Nashville could play a huge role in this situation.
Canadian business owner Jim Balsille, owner of Blackberry, has expressed interest in purchasing the Nashville Predators and moving them to Hamilton. If this situation were to arise, Montreal would need a place to have their prospects play. From what LGS has been able to learn through various outlets is that Balsille has virtually no chance of being sold the Nashville franchise, so the likelihood of Montreal stocking the Amerks next season appears unlikely.
The most reasonable option is for the Florida Panthers to sign on for a single partnership with the Rochester Americans. Florida has been sending their prospects to Rochester for three seasons, and Donner was quoted in the D&C as saying, “we’ll have no issues with an affiliate.”
The news comes during a trying season for the Amerks, who through 22 games have won only nine times, and been outscored by a margin of 81-62.
Among the highlights so far is the play of Mike Weber who has earned recalls to Buffalo, Dylan Hunter, Stefan Meyer, Tanner Glass, and Andrej Sekera. Clarke MacArthur was leading the league in scoring when he was recalled to Buffalo. Anthony Stewart has also shown glimpses of dominance.
Buffalo prospects like Marc-Andre Gragnani have struggled defensively (-21 in plus/minus) and backup goalie David Shantz has been among the worst goalies (statistically speaking) in the AHL.
The Amerks are on the road this coming weekend, as they play in Manchester to take on the Monarchs and play in Providence on Saturday to face off against the Bruins.