"We plan on announcing the long term plans for the Phantoms in the next few weeks and look forward to continuing the team's great tradition of excitement, winning, and providing great family entertainment."
>> Rob Brooks of The Brooks Group, the new owners of the Phantoms
At the end of the current hockey season, the Philadelphia Phantoms will be no more. That is a fact. Their new owners, the Brooks Group of Pittsburgh, will be relocating the team. But where to?
People in the Allentown area are getting excited, and it's clear that they feel the Lehigh Valley is the front runner for landing the Phantoms. They have good reason to think that.
"The Brooks Group is looking at a number of sites in the Lehigh Valley to build a new multi-purpose sports and entertainment arena," WFMZ-TV news in Allentown reported last night. Joe Fitzpatrick, a Lehigh Valley attorney who represents the Brooks Group echoed what WFMZ reported.
''The Brooks Group is totally focused on the Lehigh Valley as a new home for the Phantoms,'' Fitzpatrick told The Morning Call of Allentown. There is a news conference scheduled for next Thursday in Allentown with members of the Brooks Group. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski would love to see the team come to his city.
''The fact that they locked up this team is an exciting possibility for a venue to put minor league hockey here. It will mean a potential larger arena for concerts as the multipurpose type of facility we have needed in this marketplace for so long,'' Pawlowski said.
Things do look promising for Allentown to land the Phantoms, as both the city and the team owners have expressed interest publicly. But the CEO of another AHL team located just 65 miles north of Allentown doesn't believe it's a done deal.
"I'm not sure Allentown has this sewn up," Jeff Barrett of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins told The Morning Call. "There are a lot of other markets out there looking to get the Phantoms. There's going to be a lot of competition to get them."
That competition comes from a ton of different places around North America. Fitzpatrick said, without naming specific locations, that places in Texas, Carolina, and Canada are interested in landing the Phantoms.
The Texas option appears to be involved with the Texas Stars, an announced AHL team under the direction of the Dallas Stars. They are currently building an arena in Cedar Park, TX and they are accepting season ticket applications, but Dallas does not currently own an AHL franchise. In order for their team to take the ice, they would have to talk one already in existance into relocating to Cedar Park. Perhaps they are trying to lure the Brooks Group into moving the Phantoms to Texas and rebranding them the Stars. That, however, is purely speculation.
If the team were to move to Texas, the arena would presumably be completed in time for the 2009/10 season to begin. But if Allentown, the apparent front-runner, is selected as the permanent home, a new building would not be completed for next season, and the Brooks Group would be forced to find a temporary home for the Phantoms while the arena is under construction.
While Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko said that Atlantic City was never an option and that they determined there was no market there, that was based on keeping a team there permanently. It would make sense, perhaps, that the Brooks Group could put the team in Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall for a few seasons while a building in Allentown is built. The resort has not been publicly mentioned as an option, however.
Hockey fans in Glens Falls, NY have been following the Phantoms situation closely. Their city has been without hockey since 2006, when the Adirondack Frostbite of the United Hockey League ceased operations. That franchise was famous for being owned by ESPN analysts Barry Melrose and Steve Levy, who bought the team in 2004. The organization also received national attention when their coach, former NHLer Marc Potvin, killed himself in his hotel room in Kalamazoo, MI. Glens Falls was also home to the Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL from 1979 to 1999.
The Glens Falls Civic Center is operated by Global Spectrum, whose parent company is Comcast-Spectacor. People in Glens Falls put the pieces together and assumed that Comcast-Spectcor might have wanted to put the Phantoms in a building they already run themselves. It makes sense.
Glens Falls has a lot of things working against them in landing the Phantoms, though, even if it's just on a temporary basis. AHL president Dave Andrews has gone on record saying the Glens Falls Civic Center is not up to par with AHL standards and that it would have to be improved. It may not be cost-effective to renovate the building and then have the Phantoms only reside there for only a few seasons. Comcast-Spectacor probably realized that when exploring options for the Phantoms before ultimately selling them off.
They could, of course, opt to pnot go anywhere temporarily and just go dormant until a new building is ready for them. It's happened before and it could hapen here. So what would that mean for the Flyers' minor league players?
Luukko reassured fans on Comcast SportsNet's Daily News Live that the Flyers will have an AHL affiliate next season, but it could be a less-than-ideal shared affiliation. In a shared affiliation, using Dallas as an example again, this season they spread their players among five AHL squads -- Hamilton, Iowa, Manitoba, Peoria, and Grand Rapids.
Clearly, going from a situation where the NHL squad and the AHL squad are a 30 second walk down the hall from each other to having AHL players in the organization spread all across the continent is not the desired plan for the Flyers.
Ideally, the Phantoms will find a temporary home -- Glens Falls or Atlantic City, perhaps -- and then they would move to Allentown permanently after two or three seasons. That would keep the team together and under the hockey operations in Paul Holmgren's office. We'll know in a few weeks.
Unfortunately though, due to the sale of the team to the Brooks Group, that decision is no longer in the Flyers hands.