We’re still months away from the 2016-2017 season, but NHL teams are already prepping for the 2017-2018 AHL season with at least two franchise and affiliation shifts.
On Monday we saw the official announcement that the Montreal Canadiens are shifting their AHL franchise from St. John’s to Place Bell in Laval, a 10,000-seat arena currently under construction in the Montreal suburb. Not a surprise: when the Canadiens shifted the Hamilton Bulldogs franchise to St. John’s two years ago, the IceCaps were positioned as a temporary landing while the new arena was being built. And with the arena construction under schedule, the Canadiens and evenko (which manages both Place Bell and the Bell Centre) are already positioning the new franchise for the 2017-2018 season, complete with a name-the-team contest.
It’s not that St. John’s is a bad AHL market: it’s that St. John’s is a remote AHL market with only two flights in and out a day, which makes moving players back and forth on short notice extremely problematic. Leasing the team made sense for the Canadiens in the short term, but with Place Bell available, it’s time to bring the team home. Who could replace the IceCaps? The logical candidate is Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
That’s not the only franchise shift in the works for 2017-2018. Indeed, between the trend in the NHL to locate their top affiliate as close as possible and possible AHL expansion paralleling NHL expansion, we have a host of possibilities out there.
To begin with, it’s an open secret that the Ottawa Senators are moving their AHL team to Belleville, bringing the Binghamton Senators to Yardmen Arena. Nothing is official – or announced, anyway – but all indications are that the franchise will be moved once some $7 million in renovations to Yardman Arena, a former OHL home, are made. Again, proximity is an issue, but just as important to the Sens front office: no border issues. Belleville itself isn’t very large – 50,000 or so – but you don’t need to go far out to reach a 130,000 population.
So where does that leave Binghamton for 2017-2018? There’s a curious calm emanating from the city when it comes to hockey, as local officials say they have assurances from the AHL that a replacement team will be on the way. We are obviously talking expansion team or relocating team. From the Ottawa Citizen:
Fans and Broome County Executive Debbie Preston are coming to terms with losing their AHL hockey team to Belleville, but unlike the OHL’s Belleville Bulls sour 2015 departure, the AHL top brass are soothing the loss with a replacement team.
When asked about losing out to Belleville, but being able to maintain a similar calibre team, Preston stated, “The AHL has committed to staying in Binghamton and Broome County, and as long as the league keeps that commitment, I am satisfied,” indicating she’s pleased with arrangements by the AHL to replace the Senators with one of the handful of teams being shuffled around under league restructuring plans.
When asked about the atmosphere around town with rumours now confirmed the Senators brand, which won a Calder Cup and represented the region since 2012, is heading out, Preston stated, “I’m sure some fans will be disappointed, but we have very passionate hockey fans in our community and I’m sure that if a new AHL team comes to our community, it will have a strong backing.”
There are two teams often discussed as relocation candidates in league circles. One, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (a New York Islanders affiliate), could end up playing in a renovated Nassau County Coliseum. The second, the Albany Devils, may end up as a likely candidate for Binghamton.
RELATED STORIES: It’s Official: Top Canadiens Farm Team to Laval for 2017-2018
Rendering of Place Bell courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens.
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