It’s been mentioned in despatches all summer and therefore came as little surprise when the final announcement was made on the morning on September 26.
The Ottawa Senators farm team will be playing out of Belleville, Ontario from 2017-18 after their owner Eugene Melnyk, purchased the AHL franchise in Binghamton.
The Senators name will switch from Binghamton to Belleville but that’s all that’s staying the same, with much change happening before hockey commences once again in Belleville.
The Yardmen arena, formerly home of the Belleville Bulls up until 2015, requires much renovation and Melnyk has committed to $18.5 million in upgrades to modernise the venue upto the standard required for American Hockey League.
The arena is not due to be ready until November/December 2017, so Ottawa’s new farm team could well begin their inaugural season on an elongated road trip.
Belleville has a lot of things going for it in terms of building a strong affiliate for the future and Ottawa have committed for eight years. The ability and means to renovate, invest and build a stronger, perhaps larger fan base (Binghamton’s barn is one of the smallest in the AHL).
The location is pretty much perfect with Belleville 2.5 hrs from Ottawa, around sixty minutes more to Laval (Montreal’s affiliate from 17-18) and a little over an hour and a half to Toronto.
The three teams are likely to be divisional rivals and see a lot of one another in the near future.
When talk of this switch surfaced, Ottawa promised that they would not leave Binghamton without a deal in place to ensure AHL hockey remained in some form.
A quote from Binghamton Senators executive vice president, Tom Mitchell.
“Ottawa’s’ decision to relocate has no impact on the future of the AHL’s presence in the Southern Tier.”
“Our organization is taking a proactive approach to ensure this as we move forward and at the appropriate time we will be happy to share more details with the entire community.”
There are currently no standout suitors for Binghamton to partner with but things move fast in the every changing world of the AHL.
Las Vegas joins the NHL as of 17-18 and are yet to confirm who or where their affiliate would be and a 31st AHL team is a certainty.
Bingo could provide a viable option for Vegas in every way bar location, but the latter would be the least of the worries for the west coast team, as they look to initially put down roots.
If it were to happen, Binghamton would not be the only team out east to partner with a west coast NHL outfit, as Utica currently hold an affiliation with the Vancouver Canucks.
That would seem the most sensible option at this juncture but I’m certain the wheels of power are turning, far in advance of this year or next, with NHL teams looking to bring their affiliates closer to home.