For the Binghamton Senators, a trip to the playoffs of the American Hockey League (AHL) now seems improbable. The Senators have scored fewer goals than all but one other team, and now find themselves in sixth place in the North Division.
But the air of anxiety that has packed Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena since the season began has not stemmed from fears of missing the playoffs this year. Instead, many have feared the loss of an AHL team altogether after the September announcement that the Ottawa Senators will move their minor league affiliate to Belleville, Ontario.
In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, however, those fears were put to rest. Tom Mitchell, the Binghamton Senators’ executive vice president of operations, announced that the New Jersey Devils will relocate its AHL team to Binghamton from Albany, effective at the start of next season. The team will be known as the Binghamton Devils.
The AHL Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve the deal last Sunday during a meeting in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Devils are set to hold the lease on the Floyd L. Maines Veterans Memorial Arena through the 2021-22 season.
Mitchell deemed the process a long and arduous undertaking.
“It is our intention to give the New Jersey Devils the finest environment to develop their players in that they’ve ever had,” Mitchell said. “I’m certainly familiar … with all the assets we have here, there’s no doubt in my mind that we can do that.”
The Binghamton Senators’ move to Ontario continues a recent trend of AHL teams moving closer to the locations of their parent affiliates. Since the 2015-16 season, 11 NHL teams have relocated their AHL affiliates in order to more directly control the development of young players.
“The Ottawa Senators have been a great partner for 15 years,” Mitchell said. “They were instrumental in helping us bring the American Hockey League back to Binghamton.”
The Devils organization will maintain ownership of the Binghamton Devils and control all hockey-related operations. A local hockey group — consisting of majority owners Tom Bolles and Tim Smith, and minority stakeholders Mitchell, Bob Carr and Ray Stanton III — will take charge of all other operations, which include arena maintenance, game-day operations and marketing.
According to Mitchell, three other NHL teams were involved in discussions to move their affiliate to Binghamton, but he noted that the Devils were always the front-runner. He said that the hardest thing about the relocation process was the timing.
“It’s been a year of issues that we’ve had to sort through,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think there’s any losers in this whole situation.”
The Senators’ current efforts to market the game toward Binghamton University students will be unaffected by the change in affiliation.
“I think that our effort with Binghamton University has expanded,” Mitchell said. “I think that will continue. There are 18,000 students and faculty that we’d like to see at our games every night, so we’re going to continue to work on it.”
Binghamton is scheduled to face the Devils on Saturday. When asked who he thinks fans should root for, Mitchell replied that the Devils won’t play here for a few more months.
“We are the Binghamton Senators until the end of the season,” he said. “I know who I’m rooting for Saturday night.”