UPDATE: Savards open to local offers on P.E.I. Rocket

League will arrange sale to off-Island group if no Island interests come forward before April 26 for P.E.I.'s QMJHL team

Charles Reid creid@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on April 17, 2013

It's official. The Savard family name might not be on the P.E.I. Rocket much longer.

Sarge Savard Jr., president and governor of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League team, confirmed Wednesday the league has offered to buy the struggling franchise.

And Serge Savard Jr., Rocket president and governor, said he's taking the money, somewhere around $3.5 million, unless he can find a local buyer or buyers for the team.

The league contacted the Rocket on Monday with the proposal.

"The offer came in. It's a firm offer. We are going to take the offer. He's got our numbers. Financially, it makes sense," Savard said, who lives in Stratford.

"We've lost $1.5 million over the last two years. Nobody likes to lose that kind of money. At some point you have to realize it's not working. It's a sad day for me."

Savard said league commissioner Gilles Corteau has given him until April 26 to secure a buyer.

He also said the team lost over $300,000 this past season, and the Savard family, including father Serge Savard, can't afford to invest anymore of its money in a failing product.

The Rocket has suffered dwindling attendance over the last nine seasons at its home at the Charlottetown Civic Centre. P.E.I.'s yearly operating cost is about $1.8 million and it needs about 2,200 fans per game to break even.

That hasn't happened.

This season, one in which the Rocket won a franchise-record 41 games, reached the playoffs after a year's absence and posted two players with 100-plus points, the team averaged 1,805 paid spectators.

So far, Trent Birt, Rocket vice-president of operations, said he's talked to several potential local investors, but there are no offers.

This move throws a wrench onto the team's planned unveiling of its new name, the P.E.I. Islanders, new logo and colours originally scheduled for Thursday.

That's on hold, although the team will continue its regular operations until the deadline.

RDS, the French language version of TSN, reported a group headed by current NHLers François Beauchemin and Marc-Andre Fleury, and former pro Marc Denis, is in the mix.

That group would move the team to Sorel, Que., which had major junior hockey, the Eperviers, from 1968-81. The team eventually became the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 1997.

Two years ago, the league stepped in and bought the floundering Lewiston Maineiacs for about $3.5 million, folded the franchise and dispersed the players.

At the end of this season, Leo-Guy Morrissette, owner of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, sold the team to a group of local businessmen and investors.

Savard said the league doesn't do things like this unless it has a Plan B.

"The last thing they want to do is operate a team," he said.

As for Savard, he's ready to sell outright, or to become a majority or minority owner.

"We're open to anything," he said.

The Savard family owns 124 of 128 shares in the team and has operated the Rocket since 1999. The then-Montreal Rocket moved to P.E.I. in 2003.