On Friday, the American Hockey League (AHL) announced affiliate changes that will officially lead to Binghamton losing its AHL affiliation for the second time in four years. The Binghamton Devils will not return to Binghamton before the start of next season and plan to move the franchise to Utica, New York and will be renamed the Utica Comets.
“After multiple discussions and evaluating the options available for the future of our American Hockey League franchise, we have agreed to partner with local operating group Mohawk Valley Garden in Utica, NY, led by Comets President Robert Esche, to relocate our AHL franchise starting with the 2021-22 season,” said Jake Reynolds, president of the New Jersey Devils, and Tom Fitzgerald, executive vice president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils, in a joint statement. “We are pleased to announce that this is a ten-year partnership which establishes a mutual commitment between our organization and the city of Utica.”
The changes were started by the Vancouver Canucks choosing to move the current Utica Comets franchise from Utica to Abbotsford, British Columbia. This move was followed by the New Jersey Devils choosing to move the current Binghamton Devils franchise from Binghamton to Utica. Upstate New York, which as recently as 2015 had six AHL franchises, will now be down to just three in 2021. This is partly due to the AHL’s push south and westward, as it tries expand beyond the Northeast and Midwest.
However, despite the loss of its AHL affiliate team, Binghamton may potentially see another team enter the area, as the ECHL or Double-A hockey is looking to expand and may bring a team to Binghamton. The ECHL filled the void in Glenn Falls when its AHL team moved to Stockton, California. At the earliest, Binghamton could get a new team in 2022.
None of the New York NHL teams have their ECHL affiliates in New York, which may result in Binghamton becoming a prime target for these franchises in the future. The Sabres’ affiliate is in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Rangers’ in Portland, Maine and the Islanders’ in Worcester, Massachusetts. Though the Sabres’ affiliate was in Elmira from 2014 to 2017, they have shown a willingness to have an affiliate in the Southern Tier in the past.