WHL talk just won’t go away

Victoria makes special clause in lease for WHL team

The Victoria Cougars are doing well these days, thank you very much. 

So are the Victoria Salmon Kings, if anyone’s asking. 

Unfortunately, neither the former, the Esquimalt-based junior B reincarnation of Victoria’s 1925 Stanley Cup champions, nor the latter, the minor-pro ECHL team, seem capable of generating the type of buzz in this city that a non-existent Western Hockey League team can. 

And that buzz is a go. 

Not because it’s been confirmed, but because no one will rule it out.

Since the WHL Cougars left town following the 1993-94 season, there has been speculation the major junior league would return. 

On Feb. 23, the City of Victoria dropped a bomb outside Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. 

The city posted a notice of disposition in newspaper advertisements, centred on a clause to extend the current lease of Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre with RG Properties, owners of the Salmon Kings. The lease would go 10 years beyond the current termination date of 2036.

It’s a minimal clause but one with a hockey twist, “… to secure a Western Hockey League team as the major tenant of (SOFMC).”

It’s also a clear sign RG Properties is currently working toward its goal of housing a WHL team in Victoria, led by RG Properties CEO and president Graham Lee.

Should they land a WHL franchise, the lease option would be the same as the current agreement, said city spokesperson Katie Josephson. 

“Except RG Properties would take on 100 per cent of the capital costs in the last 10 years, versus the 50-50 arrangement now.”

The buzz, however, first gained media attention on March 4, when Eric Welsh of the Chilliwack Progress broke news regarding the possibility of the WHL Chilliwack Bruins sale and relocation to Victoria.

Bruins co-owner Darryl Porter said his team has not been sold, but didn’t go very far in ruling out the possibility, saying the Bruins brass “were not prepared to discuss publicly the conversations that may or may not be going on right now.”

It wasn’t yes, but it wasn’t no, either. 

With the American Hockey League casting its eye to the west, WHL commissioner Ron Robison admitted the WHL would like to establish itself on Vancouver Island.

“But I haven’t heard that the AHL is interested in Victoria, and that market has expressed a strong interest in having a WHL franchise,” he said. 

“We are very interested in that possibility, and it’s just been a case of whether we can accommodate that. At this point, we’re not in a position to do that.”

sports@vicnews.com

– with files from Eric Welsh