The wheels of the American Hockey League rarely fail to keep turning as regard franchise and team movement.
The latest relocation was ratified at the AHL All-Star event with news of New Jersey’s intention to move their farm team to Binghamton for 2017-18, broken only days previously by various outlets.
The Albany Devils have been the affiliate of New Jersey since 2010, though the history between the NJ organisation and the city of Albany goes back further.
From 1993-2006 the Albany River Rats were the proud and successful farm team of NJ, winning a championship in 1995, the same season as their NHL affiliate.
When NJ opted to shift the franchise to Lowell from 1998 until 2010, the River Rats would partner with Colorado and then Carolina. The latter would eventually shift the franchise to Charlotte, where they are now the Checkers.
Fundamentally this move is about money.
When asked about losses incurred in Albany, NJ President Hugh Weber was quoted as saying “Let’s call it multi-seven figure.”
Despite leaking a not insubstantial sum of money, it’s curious that NJ agreed to sign a three-year lease agreement to keep the team at Times Union Center last April – albeit with a get-out clause that has now been implemented.
Albany rank last in attendance in AHL this season, averaging 3,030 fans in the Times Union Center (at time of writing).
It’s been somewhat of trend for the Devils, who have only managed to average more than 3500 during one of their six competed seasons, despite a capacity of over 14,000.
On the face of it, Binghamton are not much better in terms of drawing crowds.
Playing out of the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena (capacity 4,679), the Senators consistently averaged attendances of 4000+ early on. It’s been a steady decline, punctuated with the odd spike, but this season see’s them ranked only above Albany.
The difference is the deal that Binghamton has reportedly offered NJ.
Staff for day-to-day operations plus $2 million, with the added incentive that a paltry crowd in a smaller building isn’t such a bad look for the organisation, as is currently the case in Albany.
It’s a huge coup for the Binghamton management group, who lost their franchise when Ottawa decided to pull the plug – favouring a move to Belleville.
Senators executive vice president Tom Mitchell promised their would be AHL hockey after Ottawa pulled out and he duly delivered. It’s also reported that this was not the only offer put forward to Binghamton, with two or more organisations inquiring into placing a team there.
One of those offer on the table could have been becoming the 31st member of the AHL, as part of the Las Vegas expansion
Logistically it’s a move east of approximately 150 miles and still within driving distance of Newark – though it’s not as direct for those players called up or demoted.
Taking over from a incumbent team requires less groundwork for the NJ organisation and the reported five year agreement gives both parties time to build a relationship with the local community.
The Binghamton Devils has been touted as a possible name but nothing official has been confirmed at this stage.