The New Jersey Devils held a press conference in Atlantic City today to formally announce that the team's minor league affiliates will play some games at Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall in the coming season. Per Tom Gulitti's post on the announcement (which has ticket information so go there now), here are the times, dates, and opponents for those games:
Sunday, December 5, 2010 @ 4 PM, vs. Adirondack Phantoms (Philadelphia affiliate)
Sunday, December 12, 2010 @ 4 PM, vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Friday, February 4, 2011 @ 7 PM, vs. Hershey Bears (Washington affiliate)
Sunday, February 27, 2011 @ 4 PM, vs. Norfolk Admirals (Tampa Bay affiliate)
Sunday, January 23, 2011 @ 4 PM, vs. Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton affiliate)
The press conference featured Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek as well as New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, and Jeff made no mistake about the intentions with this move: to expand the Devils realm of influence. According to the news story at the team's official site, this quote says it all:
"The New Jersey Devils are Jersey's team and proudly wear ‘NJ’ on our chest," said Devils’ Chairman/Managing Partner Jeff Vanderbeek. "We are delighted to be playing at Boardwalk Hall as part of our effort to bring more entertainment to Atlantic City and expand our fan base at the same time."
Truth be told, I like the decision to use the minor league teams. The city has a history, albeit short, of minor league hockey; the arena is good for it; and given that the games are largely weekend afternoon games will give them a good chance to fill the place out and give the Devils faithful stuck in south Jersey something to see. If the games do well, then the Devils have more of a reason to continue having more games in Atlantic City or do more, like have a preseason NHL game there. If the games do not draw so well, then not too much is lost except for additional travel and the opportunity cost of those games being in Albany. At the minimum, the parent club is doing something for south Jersey, which is more than what was done in the past as far as I know.
Travis Hughes of Broad Street Hockey was at the press conference, and openly wondered whether this is a move to see whether the Devils can move an affiliate down there. I'm not really convinced. The Devils are in Albany for the next 5 seasons; and as far as I know, there's no rumblings about the Devils wanting to move Trenton. I'm not sure how going from Trenton to Atlantic City would be an improvement, Trenton is in
Comcast "Flyers Country"* as much as AC as far as I know. Plus, a lot can happen in 5 seasons. Who knows, perhaps Albany takes to this version of the Devils' AHL affiliate and gives them reason to stay there longer? I know Travis quoted Jeff at the conference:
"This is our toe in the water, said Vanderbeek. "We are looking forward to playing in Albany this season. At the same time, our long-to-mid-range plan will be to have at least one, if not more minor league franchises in New Jersey. It's a possibility."
But the Trenton Devils already satisfy that claim. I think the intent is just as what Jeff said it was: to expand the fanbase. I'm not really concerned about either minor league affiliate moving, and won't be unless there's a development out in Trenton, the Devils don't do well in Albany at the AHL level, or the Devils happen to affiliate with a third minor league (I have no idea what that would be).
Also, if I'm Travis (which I am not, but go with it for a moment), I wouldn't be so concerned about the Devils wanting to actually reach out to the whole state. Surely, if it's largely Flyers fans down there, then they wouldn't be tempted to start following a team who doesn't follow up an improbable Stanley Cup Final run (and an expected loss) by dumping Simon Gagne in a trade for Matt Walker, signing Andrej Meszaroes to a $16 million, 4 year deal, re-signing MichaelLeighton who played well above his level last year, all to go right up to the salary cap, right? Surely, they will resist the call of the Devils and watch them on something like NHL Gamecenter or through satellite or following the team on wonderful blogs like Fire & Ice, Chere at NJ.com, or even this blog to support the Devils instead of the team that dominates Comcast networks. If they're so diehard, then news that the Devils may actually do things in southern New Jersey shouldn't sway them.
Hey, I'm not saying, I'm just saying.
Anyway, best of luck to the Albany and Trenton Devils when they go down to Atlantic City. Hopefully, the games draw and the parent club can move forward. Please let me know about your thoughts about the minor league teams playing a few games in Atlantic City in the comments. Do you like this move? Do you think it'll help generate more interest in the Devils in south Jersey? Thanks for reading.