If you can’t go home, the next-best thing is to at least get closer.
That’s been the modus operandi in the American Hockey League in past seasons, with the trend of clubs moving closer to their respective big league affiliates, a result of NHL teams buying AHL franchises. For years, a majority of franchises were privately owned, serving as a pillar in communities across the East Coast and Midwest for generations, but that practice going the way of the line brawl.
The latest to join that crop is the Binghamton Senators, which has been purchased by Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk. He intends to move the franchise to Belleville, Ontario for the 2017-18 season.
With the move, the AHL Senators will not only be within the same border as the parent club, but also about 140 miles closer. Belleville sits approximately 125 miles from Ottawa, compared to roughly 265 from Binghamton. Belleville sits within the same television market as Ottawa.
The Senators are the latest in a long line of clubs bringing its top minor league affiliates closer to the home market.
Over the past decade, the average length between AHL clubs and their affiliates has been nearly slashed in half; from 850 in 2006 to 480 this year. Much of that, of course, has to do with the league’s western expansion, in which Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose moved its clubs out to California from the Northeast in 2015. Phoenix joined this spring, when it moved its AHL club from Springfield, Mass. to Tucson, Ariz. Vancouver, whose AHL affiliate plays in Utica, N.Y., is now the lone franchise with a cross-coast affiliation.
The Senators have played in Binghamton since 2002, winning the Calder Cup in 2011. With Ottawa’s long-standing pedigree of being strong in player development, fans have been treated to the likes of Ben Bishop, Brian Elliot, Erik Karlsson, Jakob Silfverberg, Jason Spezza, Antoine Vermette, and Mika Zibanejad over the years.
The AHL is reportedly looking to remain Binghamton, a city with a strong tradition in minor league hockey. If all else fails, the upstate New York municipality could become the latest market to join the ECHL circuit after being abandoned by the American League.