According to a report by the Albany Times-Union’s Pete Dougherty, the Devils’ American Hockey League affiliate will be swapping one New York city for another. They will be moving from the New York capital region in Albany to Binghamton.
The Devils have had their AHL affiliate in Albany since the 2010-11 season when the Lowell Devils were moved to Albany to replace the departing River Rats (who themselves were a Devils affiliate until 2006, they became a Colorado Avalanche affiliate for 2006-07 before moving to the Carolina Hurricanes, who moved them to Charlotte, North Carolina to become the Charlotte Checkers in 2010). The River Rats won a Calder Cup as AHL champions in 1995 under the Devils’ affiliation.
Since the dawn of the River Rats in 1993-94, Albany’s AHL clubs have languished in the middle to bottom of the league in attendance. According to Dougherty’s article, in 1993-94, the River Rats had an average attendance of 3,526 at the 15,500-seat Times Union Center, good for ninth out of 16 teams in AHL attendance. Last season, the Albany Devils averaged 3.366 and were 28th out of 30 teams. This year, through 20 home games, they are averaging 2,888 good for 30th out of 30 teams. An Albany franchise has been last in the AHL in attendance three times in the two franchises’ histories. Attendance averages come from Dougherty’s article.
Binghamton currently has a AHL team, the Senators, an affiliate of the Ottawa Senators. But they are moving to Belleville, Ontario next year to replace an OHL team, the Bulls, which shifted to Hamilton, Ontario to replace their AHL team in the ever-changing landscape of minor league hockey.
The New Jersey Devils had signed a three-year extension to keep the AHL Devils in Albany, according to Dougherty, but “likely is exercising an out clause to make its move to Binghamton.” Dougherty says that the NHL Devils have opted out of their “agreement several times in the past, only to end up reinstating its contract with Times Union Center.” The NHL Devils have “reportedly absorbed a seven-figure loss in revenue operating its AHL team in Albany last season.” But according to Dougherty, when Lou Lamoriello ran the NHL Devils, the goal was not to make a profit at the minor league level, but rather to develop better NHL-caliber players. Dougherty says that “Lamoriello was enamored with the first-class facilities that the Albany arena offered his prospects, including an NHL-caliber locker room and training area, as well as the close proximity to the Devils’ home base in Newark.”
Dougherty says that the Binghamton ownership “will pay New Jersey a fee of about $2 million, sources said, to offset financial risks. Binghamton also will provide a staff to run the day-to-day operations.”
As for Albany, Dougherty said that “Times Union Center is in talks to acquire another professional sports tenant, but it’s not a hockey team, sources said.”
The team will play next season in the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton. The franchise shift “is expected to be finalized Sunday at an AHL board of governors meeting in Allentown” during the AHL All-Star Weekend sources told Dougherty.