It’s now official: the Ottawa Senators are launching a Belleville AHL team, moving their top affiliate from Binghamton to a renovated Yardmen Arena for the 2017-2018 season, as the Belleville Senators are in the works.
The eight-year lease (with a five-year extension as an option) was agreed to this morning after the The deal had changed over the course of the last month, going from a situation where a third party, Saskatoon’s Grant J. Kook, would have owned and operated the team (with players supplied by the Senators) to a situation where the Ottawa Senators will own and operate the AHL franchise. The Belleville Council approved spending $18.5 million (plus another $2 million set aside for contingencies) on upgrades to Yardmen Arena, and with that came the agreement. The upgrades include improvements to the ice-making equipment and the addition of 1,200 seats, bringing capacity to 4,600. From the Belleville Intelligencer:
“It’s a completed deal that’s just sitting in escrow and needs, I think, one more approval from the city level and that’s suppose to be tomorrow (Monday) early,” [Ottawa Senators owner Eugene] Melnyk said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a done deal.”…
“Wait until they see the Belleville Senators, it’s going to be a huge eye opener on the quality and level of hockey,” he said. I have a good feeling this is going to take off.
“Unless, there is something that we really missed and the Bulls attendance numbers were fabricated, I can’t see it not succeeding,” he said. We do need the support. If we don’t get it, then everybody loses.”
The move to Binghamton sets up some really nice potential rivalries in the region, with the Montreal Canadiens’ top AHL team playing out of Laval and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliation playing nearby as well. The only potential drawback: it’s not expected that the arena upgrades are completed for the 2017-2018 season, which means the Belleville AHL team could begin playing on the road or in another venue. Luckily, the Ottawa Senators could possible host the Belleville Senators at Canadian Tire Centre until the arena renovations are completed.