Wendell Young knows a thing or two about relocation rumors.
He’s lived with them all season — on two fronts.
Young, a Stanley Cup champion goaltender and an 18-year veteran of professional hockey, is now the general manager of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, the minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Thrashers.
He’s also a minority owner with the Lewiston Maineiacs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Both the Thrashers and the Maineiacs are the subject of relocation speculation in their respective leagues.
“I’ve dealt with this all year with Atlanta,” Young said Saturday. “Think about Atlanta (in the NHL) and what they’re going through. Now look at Phoenix, Phoenix is going to stay and Atlanta may move, but who knows? Atlanta hasn’t officially moved yet to Winnipeg. Until things happen, there’s nothing you can do. I’ve got the Atlanta prospects on my team and I have to hear them during the season asking where they are going to live next year, where they’re going to play. I told them to worry about what’s going on right now.”
Several Lewiston players have started asking publicly about their own situation as well, and to them, Young offered them the same advice.
“The (QMJHL) draft, everything is going forward,” Young said. “(The Maineiacs) haven’t folded.”
Folding, Young said, turning his attention to his monetary assets, would make little financial sense, not only for him, but for majority owner Mark Just, as well.
“People have dropped that one on me before, that you can just drop the team and walk away, like people have done in the housing markets with their mortgages,” Young said. “But why would I do that when we have all these loans to the tune of millions of dollars, when we have an asset? It would be sold before we’d walk away from it. Why sit there with more than $3 million in debt and walk away and you still have $3 million in debt, when you can get the $3 million back by selling the franchise. At least get something back.”
Young doesn’t blame Just for looking at relocation as an option.
“He had the right to do that,” Young said. “He stayed in Lewiston three or four more years than I would have stayed with the amount of losses we have taken. The only people who have the right to complain, honestly, are the people who have purchased season tickets and who have been major supporters. The rest of that group should be quiet.”
Young said it was actually Just who exercised his option as majority owner to keep the Maineiacs in Lewiston after the team’s most successful season, during which they won 50 games and represented the QMJHL in the Memorial Cup in Vancouver.
“I’ve had four people interested in buying the team,” Young said. “Mark’s turned them down every time. When the team went to the Memorial Cup that year, we would have made a lot of money on the franchise. Mark turned it down because he wanted to keep it in Lewiston. All those other losses over the years, the millions of dollars in losses since the Memorial Cup, you can do the math. But Mark was loyal to the team.”
Eventually, though, the losses became to great to bear, and Just started looking for a way out.
“What I am understanding that’s going on, I know Mark has explored other options,” Young said. “I know there was Summerside, there was a strong thing for Summerside, but I can tell you this much: He never filed for relocation, he just tested the waters.
“We can’t find a local owner, we’ve been willing to turn the team over to a local owner who has the money and would be willing to take the losses we’ve incurred over the years,” Young added.
Even if the team sold now for more than the $3 million Saint John and St. John’s paid to the league for rights to their respective expansion franchises, the cumulative losses would outweigh the income.
“Quite honestly, if the team sold for $3.5 million, we’re losing a ton of money,” Young said. “It’s certainly not fair for a lot of people to be complaining about that part of it.”
“The bottom line is, the support wasn’t there,” Young continued. “There’s a great group of hockey fans there, but are there enough to sustain a team? We haven’t see that yet.”