Barring the totally unexpected, the Ontario Hockey League will return to North Bay effective the 2013-14 season.
But as the Brampton Brampton prepares to relocate to North Bay in what is a virtual certainty, what is far less certain is the future of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League in the Gateway City.
The NOJHL has been a part of North Bay since the OHL left town in 2002. But with the OHL set to return to North Bay in 2013-14 by way of Brampton, what happens to the Trappers of the NOJHL?
Rumours are rampant in North Bay about where the Trappers may end up in 2013-14, with Espanola, Haileybury, Huntsville and two or three northern Michigan towns being mentioned as possible landing spots.
But before we get into that, there could be legal ramifications tied to the City of North Bay, which apparently was negotiating a new, three-year Memorial Gardens lease with the NOJHL Trappers while at the same time trying to lure the OHL Battalion to town.
The facts are that the City of North Bay announced a new three-year lease agreement with the NOJHL Trappers that was signed on September 17, only to announce its deal to move the OHL Battalion to town on November 5. And North Bay mayor Al McDonald has publicly stated that he first began negotiations with the OHL Battalion back in June of this year.
And while it’s true that the City of North Bay has a clause in its agreement with the NOJHL Trappers that allowed it to bring the OHL to town if the opportunity were to arise, there are allegations of misrepresentation and not bargaining in good faith that inside sources say are being prepared by a North Bay litigator on behalf of the NOJHL Trappers.
A City of North Bay employee — speaking on condition of anonymity, for obvious reasons, told me that the Trappers have a strong case for what is called “fraudulent misrepresentation”, a serious allegation that if proved, would be contrary to the Municipal Corporations Act.
“The Trappers have a case and the City knows it,” the employee told me. “I would suspect that (the Trappers) lawyer is all over it.”
Trappers owner Tim Clayden, when asked if he was contemplating going after the City of North Bay for damages, offered a polite “no comment.” Clayden added that his primary concern is completing the 2012-13 NOJHL season in North Bay and playing host to next spring’s Dudley Hewitt Cup, Central Canada playdowns that are slated for Memorial Gardens.
But the City of North Bay employee admitted to me that Clayden “would appear to be in good position to sue the City for damages and any relocation fees” should the Trappers leave North Bay and move elsewhere effective the 2013-14 season.
The City of North Bay, ideally, would like the Trappers to move from the 4,000-seat Memorial Gardens to the much-smaller, City-run West Ferris Arena, which has a seating capacity of about 700.
However, West Ferris Arena is not currently suitable to house an NOJHL team as it is in need of major upgrade.
WHAT ABOUT ESPANOLA?
Clayden and the current Trappers franchise might well end up in the Spanish River town of Espanola come the 2013-14 season.
Espanola, a gritty community with a population of about 5,300, has been home to failed junior hockey teams before.
But progressive Espanola mayor Mike Lehoux and Colin Wilson of the town’s Economic Development department have been looking to lure another junior hockey team their way and a proven operator like Trappers owner Clayden would be a potentially-good partner to team up with.
Espanola is home to a a modern, well-kept arena complex that is less than 15 years old and could comfortably house an NOJHL franchise.
Espanola is about 120 miles from North Bay and about 45 miles west of Sudbury. Espanola could well form a rabid North Shore rivalry with current NOJHL teams in Elliot Lake and Blind River.
So how might all of this play out?
What could potentially happen is that Clayden gets relocation fees from the City of North Bay to move to Espanola for the 2013-14 season and that the City of North Bay appeases the NOJHL by upgrading West Ferris Arena and allows a new local ownership to maintain an NOJHL franchise in North Bay.
That way, all parties — the City of North Bay, Clayden and the Trappers, and the NOJHL — are winners.
The City of North Bay moves forward with the OHL at Memorial Gardens and gets an NOJHL team to play out of West Ferris, Clayden gets to be the big game in town in Espanola, and the NOJHL adds another franchise in increasing its membership to eight teams.
Does all of this sound too good to be true?
Depends on whether or not the City of North Bay wants the legal headache that litigation would most likely cause.