In what was a very odd and surprising turn of events, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, announced on Wednesday evening that they’d be relocating to Springfield, Massachusetts after a change in ownership.
The Panthers entered a 4-year affiliation agreement with the Portland Pirates in the off-season and the team just wrapped up it’s year with a first-round playoff exit after losing the series 3-2 to the Hershey Bears. News broke on Wednesday afternoon that the Pirates would be moving to Springfield for next season and almost everyone – including the Panthers – was caught off guard by the move. The Pirates’ Chief Operating Officer, Brad Church, told the Portland Press Herald that he was completely unaware of the team being sold until it happened and that the Pirates were still marketing season tickets for next season. Ron Cain, who became the Pirates’s majority owner in December of 2013, reportedly had the team quietly up for sale without the knowledge of many people.
Although the Panthers had an agreement in place with the Pirates, it appears as though it won’t carry over when the franchise is moved to Springfield therefore putting the Panthers in an awkward position. They’re certainly free to create a new agreement with the new Pirates ownership, but it doesn’t seem like they’ll be doing so, at least not immediately. According to Chris Roy of the Maine Hockey Journal, the Panthers looked into purchasing an AHL franchise but decided not to and apparently also do not wish to have their players play in Springfield.
In a statement released by the Panthers on Wednesday, the team states they’re “exploring all [of their] options to put [their] players in the very best developmental situation,” and if they’re unable to swap AHL affiliates with another team and decide not to play in Springfield, they may have to make use of Europe and the ECHL which definitely isn’t the ideal thing to do.
Springfield recently lost it’s own AHL affiliate as the Arizona Coyotes purchased the Falcons last month and announced their intent to move it to Tuscon. The Panthers were affiliated with the San Antonio Rampage from 2011 until 2015 when their agreement ended and decided to join forces with the Pirates who are in the same timezone as Florida. The Panthers are already without an official ECHL affiliate as they were forced into unofficially using the Manchester Monarchs before the season started.