The Komets are desirous of playing in the International Hockey League again next season, though it remains unclear if that six-team league will survive beyond this month.
If the IHL does fold – a possibility that seems to rest on whether new ownership is found for the Flint Generals – we now know that the Komets would not end up in the higher-level American Hockey League.
Citing the exorbitant costs of owning a team at that level, plus the changing business model of the AHL, Komets president Michael Franke said the AHL is not a possibility, though sources within the franchise confirmed the idea of moving up had been bandied about a little last season, as it became clear the IHL might not make it to 2010-11.
"If you're asking if there's any chance we are going to the American Hockey League, the answer to that question is, 'No,' " Franke said Thursday, less than a week after the Komets won a third consecutive Turner Cup championship.
The IHL had seven teams last season but Muskegon is leaving for the junior-level United States Hockey League. Financially strapped Flint, which made the Finals, must find new ownership, willing to field a team in the same arena as a new junior team in the North American Hockey League.
The Generals have been checked out by prospective new owners Ron Geary, a Kentucky businessman expected to own an IHL franchise in Evansville in 2011-12, and former Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins coach Dave Lewis.
Franke, who is head of the IHL's Board of Governors, said that even if the Generals aren't purchased, perhaps the IHL could pull through with another expansion team.
"The key thing that I've tried to express since the beginning is that we need six cities with six strong ownership groups," Franke said. "That's what we've tried to talk about as a board since the Muskegon announcement. … (Expansion is possible) as long as it's a decent city, with an opportunity to work, and most importantly, with a double underline under this, a strong ownership group."
Though no teams have folded, the IHL has seen several ownership changes since it was reincarnated in 2007 as a Midwest league geared toward financial sanity in a world of outrageous travel costs.
The Komets have remained profitable and increased their attendance each year. Their average gate of 7,825 this season was the fourth largest in minor-league hockey.
"Our No. 1 goal is to keep the IHL intact and be able to slowly grow the league as hopefully economic conditions improve," Franke said. "We believe our model is solid. Our success as an organization, if you look at it from that standpoint, has not been greater than since we joined the IHL. Our attendance and success on the ice, obviously, it's worked out well for us. But we need it to work out well for everyone."
If the IHL should fold, the Komets would have to try to find a home in either the NHL-affiliated ECHL or the Central Hockey League, though Franke declined to say whether he's spoken with either league.
As for the AHL, which is one step below the NHL, it would be akin to the Komets' stint in the old IHL: Salaries and travel costs would be huge; ticket prices would have to be hiked to compensate; and the Frankes would lose control over their own personnel decisions.
And all that's assuming there was even an available affiliation with an NHL team, which wouldn't mind farming it out to local ownership.
"The American Hockey League, under their current state of business operations, is not a possibility for Fort Wayne," Franke said. "As time goes on now, there are more and more National Hockey League teams that are owning their American Hockey League cities. Over a period of time, that's where it's all heading in the American Hockey League."