When Glens Falls, N.Y., mayor John Diamond announced last month he's been actively involved in negotiations to land an American Hockey League team, a rumor surfaced the Oklahoma City Barons might be the franchise Diamond was referring to.
It was a bogus rumor, only speculation based on the Barons' attendance totals ranking near the bottom of the 30-team AHL. Attendance, though, is only one of several variables NHL teams consider when deciding where to place their Triple-A affiliate.
Because the Barons are below a required attendance total (4,000) in the contract, the Edmonton Oilers could move the franchise they own.
When the Barons' five-year contract with Edmonton expires after the 2014-15 season, because of many positives in Oklahoma City, multiple sources told The Oklahoman they will be shocked if the Oilers don't sign an extension with Prodigal CEO Bob Funk Jr. who operates the Barons for Edmonton.
“The most important thing for us from a hockey operations side is we want a great place to develop our players,” said Barons general manager Bill Scott, who is paid by the Oilers. “Our players absolutely love living in Oklahoma City, a thriving city, a clean city, a family friendly city.”
Several factors work in Oklahoma City's favor for keeping the AHL team here.
Bricktown offers a wide array of choices, including upscale living arrangements, numerous restaurants and a movie theater. Another plus is the Cox Convention Center's facilities are among the best in the league.
“They take care of us really well here,” said Barons captain Anton Lander. “We have a great weight room area, a great locker room. They help us get really nice apartments. The weather is good. You can golf during the season when you have a day off. This is a great city to play hockey.”
Compared to some AHL cities, Oklahoma City is a major market, the sixth-largest city in the league behind Chicago, Toronto, Charlotte, San Antonio and Milwaukee.
“Attendance is a factor in our business, but that's offset by all the positive things,” said Edmonton general manager Craig MacTavish. “The main thing is you want your players to be happy. Players really enjoy playing in Oklahoma City.”
During last year's NHL lockout, Oilers stars Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall raved about their four months with the Barons. Word is spreading around the league OKC is a great place to play.
“That helps attract good veteran players looking for a place to play,” MacTavish said. “Oklahoma City has a leg up attracting those role models that are so essential for young players to help give them a road map on what professionalism looks like.”
Todd Nelson, who has been the Barons coach all four seasons, is from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, located approximately 350 miles north of the Montana/Canadian border. Nelson and his family live year-round in Edmond.
“I really enjoy it here,” Nelson said. “It's a city that's growing. I like it a lot. It kind of reminds me of back home. It has that western feel. There are a ton of things to do in the downtown area where most of the players live, which is really great for the young players.”