The Southern Professional Hockey League will probably operate with six teams during the 2008-2009 season.
The Jacksonville Barracudas requested to suspend operations for a year, but aren't ruling out a return to SPHL competition. The Barracudas, members of the league since its inception in the fall of 2004, have been unable to locate a rink suited to their needs.
Jacksonville began competition in the league's inaugural year in the mammoth Veterans Memorial Arena. The huge venue seats 16,000 fans and was way too big for an SPHL budget. When their lease was up for renewal, the Barracudas moved to the 1,200-seat Jacksonville Ice for this past season.
Though Jacksonville fielded a strong team, that facility is substandard. The move was intended to be a stopgap measure until a rink could be located or built in Jacksonville or a nearby community. The one-year suspension will allow for a more prolonged search for a suitable facility.
The door is open for Jacksonville to return. At the league's summer meetings, the suspension will officially be approved. In all likelihood, the league will expand in the future, but not this season.
Since Jacksonville's shutdown is considered temporary, a dispersal draft will be held at a date still to be determined. The league's other teams — Columbus, Knoxville, Huntsville, Twin City, Richmond and Fayetteville — will choose in reverse order of their 2008-2009 finish.
Huntsville would have the first selection as the last-place team, followed by the Snakes, who finished in sixth place. Cottonmouths coach Jerome Bechard is already pondering which player could make the biggest impact on the Snakes' roster.
“It depends on who the first pick is,” said Bechard of his preference. “We need a playmaking forward. We don't need veterans, which would leave out (Tyrone) Garner, (Khalil) Thomas and (Billy) Rochefort. A possibility is Frank Furdero, a guy who came out of nowhere last year. We're all right at goaltender. I'd have to look at their defensive corps, maybe (Craig) Geerlinks or (Andrew) Morris.”
If Jacksonville resumes operations after a year, the drafted players would become the Barracudas' property again.