Earlier today, the New Jersey Devils and Utica Comets announced a ten-year American Hockey League affiliation deal. The link goes to Utica’s statement. Here is the statement from the Devils stating the same. The re-location of the Devils’ AHL team from Binghamton to Utica was approved today. It is now official: the AHL Devils are moving up two hours north on NY-12 to Utica. They will be there through to 2032 provided the agreement is honored in full.
Last month, it became public knowledge that the New Jersey Devils were ending their AHL affiliation deal with Binghamton. New Jersey ended their five-year deal with them a year earlier than agreed upon. It remains to be seen what the actual reasoning was for ending it early, but it is most likely financial. At the time, it was noted that the Utica team president, Robert Esche, registered a trademark for “Utica Devils.” All signs pointed to the Devils moving their AHL team up north to Utica. Vancouver had their AHL team in Utica. Would they move? Yes, they would. That shoe dropped on May 4; Vancouver announced that their AHL affiliate would be moving from Utica, New York to Abbotsford, British Columbia. Today, the change in affiliates were made official, but with a twist.
The twist is that the trademark may not get used. At least not right away. The B-Devils will not become the U-Devils. The team will remain as the Comets as per Utica’s release:
The organization will remain the Utica Comets, with jersey designs and colors to be revealed later this year. Throughout the process, both parties focused on the Utica community while introducing a new NHL partner into the City; the main component to that was ensuring that the team would still be called the Utica Comets.
The team also announced plans that the New Jersey affiliate will play their first home game in Utica on October 17, 34 years since the last time the Devils were in Utica. This is the second AHL affiliate to be hosted in Utica. The Utica Devils were there from 1987 to 1993 before Calgary bought the Utica team and moved them to Saint John, New Brunswick. As a result, the Devils moved their affiliation to Albany for the 1993-94 season, which was re-branded as the River Rats by the owner. The AHL returned to Utica in 2013 with the Comets as an affiliated team with Vancouver. This is an end of one era in Utica, but the start of a new one.
In terms of location, Utica is about 90 minutes away from Albany on Route 90. Whatever rivalries were formed with Syracuse and Rochester could still be local. I can imagine there will be a significant one with Binghamton should Binghamton have an affiliation agreement with a NHL team in the near future. Likewise if Albany also gets an AHL affiliate in the future. At the least, Utica will get to see a young lineup filled with prospects for next season ranging from the future NHLers in Alexander Holtz to guys with a shot like Graeme Clarke and Aarne Talvitie to the recently-signed Nico Daws. That will certainly be a draw for those interested in seeing future prospects. Hopefully, New Jersey will add some solid AHL veterans to support the young team to be competitive in their first season back in Utica, which can only help the local fans transition to the new affiliate with the same name.
Personally, I wish the best for all involved. I am not particularly pleased with New Jersey ending their AHL affiliation agreement with Binghamton a season early. Especially in a pandemic-shortened AHL season where they are not even playing in their city. The B-Devils have played their home games at the Devils’ practice rink in Newark. The local fans did not even get a chance to say goodbye (or good riddance, which is a more understandable sentiment.) Hopefully, the relationship between the Comets and Devils will be more amicable and no one is writing in a few years about that deal ending early.
Now that the AHL affiliation is officially with Utica until 2032, I would like to know your opinion. What is your take on the move? Are you excited for the new affiliated team in Utica? Are you pleased they will be called the Comets and not the Devils? Do you think the Devils will provide the resources to make the Comets more competitive? If you are local to the Utica area, how do you feel about today’s news? Please leave your answers and other AHL thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.