Trade speculation . . . over the location of Flames’ farm team
Rumour mill had Calgary, St. Louis and Vancouver engineering a three-way trade of AHL teams, but Flames shoot it down
Trade speculation recently has not been restricted to players.
Rumour had it that (deep breath) the Calgary Flames are pulling their American Hockey League team out of Abbotsford and relocating it to Utica, N.Y. This then paves the way for the Vancouver Canucks to purchase the St. Louis Blues’ affiliate (currently stationed in Peoria) and plop it in Abbotsford. The Blues, in turn, take over the Canucks’ AHL arrangement in Chicago.
That’s all well and good.
But all unconfirmed.
And, according to the Flames, it’s a bunch of baloney.
“On behalf of our fans and on behalf of our local partners in the Abbotsford Heat, we wish to emphasize that there is no ‘three-way deal’ (or any other deal) that will see the Canucks move their development program to Abbotsford for next season,” the Flames said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “We remain committed to our fans and partners in Abbotsford and look forward to sharing many more seasons with them.”
The Flames have operated their top minor-league outlet in Abbotsford since the 2009-10 season.
Attendance, however, has been a challenge in the B.C. city. Currently, only two centres — Oklahoma City and Binghamton — draw fewer fans than the Heat, which pulls in an average of 3,699. Hershey, at the top, pulls in 9,995 nightly.
The AHL average is 5,649.
Reto Berra, part of the return for Jay Bouwmeester, may be a mystery to Calgarians — but not to Bob Hartley.
The Flames skipper, last season, coached Zurich in Switzerland’s National League A. Berra, meanwhile, was holding down the fort for rival Biel.
So, obviously, their paths did cross.
“He’s very good,” Hartley said of the six-foot-four netminder. “Last year he took his team to the playoffs. From talking to my friends in Switzerland, this year was exactly the same thing. He’s a big-sized goalie, covers lots of net. He’s real good technically. He’s played for the Swiss national team a couple of times. I believe he was one of their starters last year in the world championship.”
Berra, 26, had been a fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2006. However, his pro career has been staged exclusively in Switzerland.
Can that experience translate to North American hockey?
“I really believe so,” said Hartley. “The jump for a young Swiss (player) is real tough, but if you look at (27-year-old) Damien Brunner . . . I think you can acquire maturity in that league. The Swiss league is a league where it’s fast-paced, lots of great skaters. And the team they had in Biel, they had to rely a lot on Berra. I saw him steal some games by himself. He’s pretty solid.”
WE HAVE A BABCHUK SIGHTING
With defenceman Derek Smith (lower body) on the hobble — and Bouwmeester en route to St. Louis — Anton Babchuk checks back in.
Wednesday, for the first time since Feb. 17 at Dallas, ol’ No. 33 will suit up.
“Babber has been very good,” said Hartley, who had a lengthy on-ice chat with the team’s eighth defenceman Tuesday. “His attitude has been unbelievable. He’s been working hard. We had told him our plan — that we wanted to see the other guys. We were very upfront with him . . . we told him he had to wait for an injury. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Babchuk, after recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the KHL, has been a healthy scratch 24 times this season. Only twice has he suited up.
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