Griffins Soaring On New Wings

April 16, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Grand Rapids Griffins General Manager Bob McNamara said he was sorry to see his club’s three-year business relationship with the Ottawa Senators come to a close last week. At the same time, however, he felt that his franchise’s new affiliation would serve both parties well.

“Obviously, we had a lot of success with the Senators so I have a little bit of difficulty leaving the Senators because of that success, and because of the relationships that we forged with the people in Ottawa’s organization,” said McNamara, who was named IHL Executive of the Year in the Griffins’ inaugural season.

“Certainly, I’m going to miss that relationship. But at the same time, this new agreement makes a lot of sense for everybody,” he added. “When you look at the geographics and the fact that their fan base extends into our market, along with their willingness to work with us in the same fashion that Ottawa has worked with us, it’s something, I think, that makes a lot of sense from all standpoints.”

The local AHL franchise entered its third era in just six years of operation, as the Griffins signed a five-year player-affiliation agreement with the Detroit Red Wings last Thursday. When the franchise made its debut, it operated as an independent for three seasons before affiliating with Ottawa. The contract with Senators will officially end with the completion of the current season.

Ottawa is reportedly looking at two other sites for their new affiliate. Senators Vice President of Communications Phil Legault told the Business Journal last week, “We don’t have anything at this time.”

The pact with Detroit is similar to the agreement the Griffins had with Ottawa. The Red Wings will supply Grand Rapids will 11 skaters and two goaltenders, leaving McNamara free to sign eight players just as the contract with the Senators did. The Griffins will pay Detroit a fee for the players, an undisclosed amount that will be less costly for the Griffins than if they had to pay each player directly.

Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland and Assistant GM Jim Nill were present at last week’s unveiling of the new agreement. Holland called Grand Rapids a tremendous hockey city and said the affiliation was something they had pursued very hard.

.Detroit folded its AHL franchise in Glens Falls, N.Y., three seasons ago and has been sharing one with Anaheim in Cincinnati since then. There, the Red Wings have nine skaters and one goaltender that were on the team’s training camp roster, leaving Detroit a few players short of being able to fill the contract. But McNamara isn’t worried that Detroit won’t send him enough quality players.

“I don’t have any concerns about that,” he said. “We’ve had many discussions with the Red Wings relative to what they have coming and where they are going from here. I think they have quite a few prospects in Europe ready to come over. They’ve got some good players in Cincinnati, and they will obviously be more active this summer in terms of signing some free agents.”

Griffins Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bob Sack felt the new partnership would provide both franchises with some unique marketing opportunities that only a few affiliated teams have been able to enjoy. The details will come later, but the Griffins’ goal is to pump up ticket sales to the level the club had in its first two seasons.

“We’re really in the infancy stages right now. We had our first meeting in December and threw out just a bevy of ideas that would benefit both organizations and we’ll begin to flush through those now,” he said.

But Sack said the Griffins are likely to help Detroit promote local TV viewership of its games, its Web site and other events at Joe Louis Arena. In return, Grand Rapids can probably expect the Red Wings to make some preseason visits to Van Andel Arena.

Sack credited the Griffins’ season-ticket holders and their overwhelming ticket demand for the intra-squad game the Red Wings played here in 2000 as being crucial in bringing the two franchises together.

“Those are the people that made this day possible, to some degree,” said Sack. “Our season-ticket holders will be at the core of how we use the relationship from a marketing standpoint. We want to provide them with a link to the Red Wings that is a bit different from the average fan.

“We know that there will be preseason events that are a result of this new partnership,” he added.

Dan and Pamella DeVos and David Van Andel own the Griffins, while Mike and Marian Ilitch are the longtime owners of the Red Wings.

The agreement leaves the Griffins with the final say on who will coach the franchise next season. McNamara said he hopes that Bruce Cassidy remains with the club. Cassidy is in his second year of guiding the team and the last of a two-year contract.

“We will seek their input, however, because we recognize that they are going to put their prospects here and the coach is going to have a significant bearing on the development of those prospects. So we’ll work together on that, but ultimately it’s our responsibility,” said McNamara.

“We’ve had discussions and we’ll have one at the end of the season,” he said of Cassidy. “I think he’ll assess his options. But it’s our desire to have him back, obviously.”

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