It’s not been a very well-kept secret, but things will be out in the open tomorrow: the Ottawa Senators will announce a plan for a Belleville AHL team for the 2017-18 season, as the NHL team shifts minor-league operations from Binghamton.
Not exactly a surprise: the Senators have been openly negotiating with Belleville officials for upgrades to Yardmen Arena, a sum now estimated at over $20 million — up significantly from an earlier estimate of $7 million. The move from Binghamton is seen as a plus by the Senators front office: no more trips across the border for scouting or player movement, and plenty of promotion as the team is in the Sens’ TV market. And there’s some sentiment within the Senator front office about bringing the team closer to home.
So where does this leave Binghamton? Officials there have answered rumors by saying the AHL was working on a placement team, and indeed the addition of a Las Vegas NHL team in the 2017-18 season would be a good sign that we could see AHL expansion. Now, whether or not Vegas wants a Binghamton affiliate is another matter altogether: a city like Reno (where there’s an open quest for professional hockey) is a far more logical landing spot for a Vegas affiliate, though there are plenty of obstacles there in terms of facilities. Binghamton is considered a decent minor-league hockey market, so even if the AHL falls through, there’s always the ECHL as an option.