John Royal The Aeros celebrate the fans after winning the AHL's Western Conference Championship two years ago
Michael Russo, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's beat writer for the Minnesota Wild, blogged yesterday that the Aeros and Toyota Center have not been able to come to the terms. The result of this being that the Aeros are bound for Des Moines, Iowa following the season.
"Expect an announcement in the next couple of weeks that the Wild's long relationship with the Houston Aeros is ending," wrote Russo, who's covered the NHL for 18 years. "The Wild has not been able to come to terms on a new lease at the Toyota Center."
The statement is somewhat misleading in that it's difficult for the Wild to sever a relationship with an entity that it owns. But what isn't misleading is the point he makes when he says the Wild will relocate its American Hockey League affiliate to Des Moines. That affiliate being the Houston Aeros franchise, which the Wild have owned for most of the past decade.
If the story is true, and there's no reason to doubt the truthfulness of this story, the news comes at what could be the worst possible time for the Aeros. There are six games remaining in the regular season and the Aeros are fighting for a playoff berth and for playoff positioning. There are only three regular season home games remaining, and the players would probably prefer playing before a packed house of loud, exciting fans, which they might not be getting.
There is a possibility that this is all a ploy of some kind on part of the Wild to keep the team in Houston, which they very much want to do. Having a team located in Houston, which has access to one of the largest airline hubs in the U.S. with numerous direct flights to most destinations the Wild play, makes it incredibly easy to call up players when there are injuries to the big club.
But while not disputing the story, there is some thinking going around that the Wild are using Russo to send a message to Toyota Center and the Houston Rockets, who run the arena, saying "put your best offer on the table now." It has been made clear to me in the past that the Wild want to keep the Aeros in Houston -- the team's been here for almost 20 years -- but Toyota Center officials haven't been easy to deal with regarding lease talks.
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Toyota Center has been a somewhat difficult landlord this season. I've seen Aeros employees running around, searching for missing equipment like copy machines that were left overnight between games. The availability of press row wi-fi for the media has been a continuing problem. And the internet in the media room was switched off last week, which made it difficult for the media covering the team to file their post-game stories. And I've also heard rumblings of difficulties with the team being able to get proper access to the building when promised.
The clock is ticking, however. The season's almost over, and at some point the folks running the Aeros have to start doing certain things if the team's remaining in Houston. Things like calming the fears of season ticket holders, ordering merchandise, making sure practice facilities are locked down. But for what it's worth, officials in Des Moines are also saying that no deal has been reached, and are also tossing out the same words that have come from people at Toyota Center, namely that the Wells Fargo Arena, where the Aeros would play, is making tons of money hosting concerts and playing home arena to an NBA D-League team and an arena football team, and by hosting numerous high school athletic competitions.
All that's certain for now is that there's still no lease for next season between the Aeros and Toyota Center. And, oh yeah, there are still three more regular season hockey games to be played, tomorrow night, Thursday, and Saturday.