Where there is smoke, there is usually fire. And where there are Devils… well, you get it. There are hints being dropped from Newark to Binghamton to Utica and it all points toward a change in AHL affiliation for New Jersey. According to multiple sources, the club is expected to move their farm team, currently the Binghamton Devils, to Utica, currently the home of the Utica Comets, affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. The move is expected to take place before next season and team would be re-branded as the Utica Devils. There is no word yet on the Canucks’ affiliation plans or the AHL future in Binghamton.
News first emerged hinting at this change on Friday when WBNG in Binghamton reported that there was a growing dispute between the ownership of the New Jersey Devils and the Binghamton Devils. Though it is unclear which side feels it has been wronged, it is believed that Binghamton playing the current season in Newark is considered part of the problem. The current agreement between the two organizations extends through the 2021-22 season, but it seems that it could be cut short by this current animosity.
Digging for answers as to where their team might be headed, WBNG discovered that Utica Comets president and former NHLer Robert Esche recently filed a trademark with the USPTO for “Utica Devils”. The wide-ranging application requests a service mark not only for general advertising use, but also for a number of merchandise groups. There are clearly big plans in place for this trademark, even though the AHL has not yet received a formal request for the location change. WBNG also notes that Utica does have an opt-out clause after this season in its affiliation agreement with Vancouver, making it a realistic landing spot for the Devils.
Then earlier today, WBNG reported that, whether it be to Utica or elsewhere, the AHL Devils are on the move. Binghamton Exec. VP of Operations Tom Mitchell confirmed that the team has received formal notice of the dissolution of their agreement with New Jersey. “The demands [the New Jersey Devils] were putting on us were absolutely impossible and we just couldn’t comply with them,” Mitchell said. “So it looks like we’re going to part ways, and just try to move on.” Mitchell did not know about any previous talks that New Jersey may have had with Esche and Utica, saying he was surprised to hear about the trademark application. As far as Binghamton’s hockey future, he could only add that he felt the city could attract another pro team and will get to work on that immediately.
As for Vancouver, perhaps the party most in the dark in this situation, The Province’s Patrick Johnston reports that the Canucks have not made a comment on the situation and not much is known about their future affiliation plans. A recent trend in the AHL has been for NHL teams to move their prospects closer to the main club, so the Canucks’ keeping their affiliate out in the Eastern U.S. might not make much sense. Johnston notes that the team has previously discussed the possibility of an affiliate in Abbotsford, British Columbia, the former home of the Calgary Flames’ AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Heat. He also notes that California now sports a large quantity of AHL clubs, soon including the Seattle Kraken’s affiliate as well, so Vancouver could look at options in that area as well.