With the team’s deal at the XL Center expiring after this season, speculation about the Rangers’ future in Hartford has been swirling all season.
Both AHL president Dave Andrews and Rangers’ executive Jim Schoenfeld have said the team is considering its options as it waits for the Capital Regional Development Authority to choose the next operator of the XL Center. League sources have said the Rangers have been looked at Glens Falls, N.Y. while other sources say the organization has a strong interest in Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena.
But Sound Tigers president Howard Saffan, whose company Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment operates the building, said Saturday that speculation about the Rangers’ inevitable move to Bridgeport is unfounded. Saffan said the Islanders’ lease in Bridgeport runs through 2021 and the team has no interest in leaving.
“Is Bridgeport a lot closer to New York or Greenburgh, N.Y. [where the Rangers train? Of course it is,” Saffan said. “Would it be a perfect fit for the Rangers? I believe so. Having said that, we have eight more years left here and we’re contractually bound.”
Still, there is proof that the Rangers-to-Bridgeport scenario has been discussed within the offices of Harbor Yards Sports & Entertainment. The company registered the domain names CTRANGERS.COM and CONNECTICUTRANGERS.COM on January 2.
The registrations, through GoDaddy.com, LLC, run through January 2, 2018. So the presence of the domain names do not necessarily mean the Rangers’ affiliate is bound for Bridgeport this year, but the idea has clearly been percolating.
Does Saffan know about the domain names?
“I don’t [know about it] because I don’t handle that end of our world,” Saffan said.
Saffan said he's been hearing speculation about the Rangers coming to Bridgeport for years. At the AHL All-Star Game last week, someone approached Saffan and said the Rangers he heard the Rangers-to-Bridgeport was done.
"I said, 'Really? Where are we going?' " Saffan said. "I'm uninformed here."
Saffan insists the Islanders are pleased with the convenience of having an AHL franchise in Bridgeport. The Islanders are moving to Brooklyn in 2015 and and has been speculation on Long Island that the team could place its AHL affiliate in Nassau Coliseum, although that building is decaying.
And even if that scenario played out, that would be two seasons before Bridgeport was available. If the Rangers don’t reach a new agreement for the XL Center, they team will need an AHL home for the upcoming season.
That team is set to play at a new arena in Allentown, Pa. beginning in 2014.
So it is slated to stay in Glens Falls for another season, but the city has the option of searching for a long-term tenant for the 2013-14 season and beyond. The Flyers would need to find a one-year home if Glens Falls lands a replacement.
Glens Falls mayor John “Jack” Diamond told the Glens Falls Post-Star that the city has been in contact with two teams that he would not identify.
Schoenfeld told The Courant last week that the Rangers are still interested in Hartford and that geography is a significant part of the equation when choosing an AHL site. Bridgeport, of course, could bring the team’s AHL affiliate closer to New York and would tap into a Fairfield County market that is full of Rangers’ fans.
But when asked if a decision has already been reached, Schoenfeld said no. Madison Square Garden’s people are waiting to find out which company will run the XL Center so negotiations can begin.
“We have to make sure that we do our due diligence, but there have been no decisions made,” Schoenfeld said. “We’ll wait and see what happens with the operators of the building, whether they’re new or whether they’re the ones there, and what kind of deal we can work out with them. You want a deal that’s beneficial to both parties.”
From his vantage point in Bridgeport, Saffan said he hopes the Rangers stay in Connecticut.
“It’s in the best interest of Connecticut that we have two hockey teams,” Saffan said. “The Hartford club … and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers have a storied rivalry. And that rivalry, economically, it benefits both of us. To lose one team out of Connecticut would be harmful to one of us.”