In 2010 they rode into town and planted their pitchfork at center ice. Hey Albany, we’re back. It was with that proclamation, the AHL was to stay in the capital of New York. Replacing the Albany River Rats, the artists formerly known as the River Rats, before they were the artists formerly known as the Lowell Devils, the Albany Devils signed a five-year lease agreement with the Times Union Center, which included facility upgrades. Fast forward to 2015 and they are in the final year of that lease. In case you haven’t noticed lately, much has been bandied about with regard to mass migration of clubs around the American Hockey League. Albany has not been immune from such speculation.
That isn’t to say the New Jersey Devils aren’t intending to extend their lease beyond this season. After all, it took up until June of 2010 for the club to officially announce its move back to Albany from Lowell. Tight to the vest, that’s generally how Lou Lamoriello plays it, unless of course you saw he, Adam Oates and Scott Stevens all c0-coaching New Jersey, over a month ago.
It is not without merit that other vacated clubs may be vying for the Devils or other teams. That being said, I just don’t see another destination that makes more sense than Albany for the Devils’ AHL affiliate. Call me biased, call me what you will but I’ll outline just why this arrangement still makes the most sense.
Albany has housed New Jersey’s top prospects for 18 of the past 22 years. The history and connections are there. Albany is still within close proximity to Newark for call-ups and represents a central market for cost-effective travel to other AHL cities. Hockey facilities are still at an NHL caliber level and the TU Center is slated to be making more improvements in the coming years, including an adjacent convention center. Is it a splintered market among NHL fans? Yes. Although I’d argue that Albany has more Devils fans than some parts of the Garden State. Is attendance perfect? No. However, one may be able to chalk that up to the economy and scheduling.
Aside from not knowing all of the financials and or politics involved, let me take a look at some of the other potential options and why they do or don’t make sense:
Atlantic City: Ah yes, politics. When the Devils came back to Albany, for some unbeknownst reason to me, they began playing a handful of “home games,” at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, NJ. A deal in which New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno insinuated would be made even nicer if Jersey’s AHL team played all of its games in New Jersey. Which with that logic I guess that means the New York Yankees should move their Double-A Eastern League team from Trenton to Albany, because they’re a New York based team but I digress. In reality, there’s really only a half hour difference from the proximity of Albany to Newark, versus Atlantic City to Newark. So, you’re essentially splitting hairs on the debate of distance. Plus, Southern Jersey is Philadelphia Flyers country. Additionally, most hockey fans in New Jersey are going to watch the big club, not the AHL squad.
Glens Falls: This was a rumor for a hot minute, once the Adirondack Phantoms bolted for Lehigh Valley, PA. Then the Flames came into town and thusly put an end to that talk. Now with the Flames rumored to be opting out for the AHL Pacific Division, they’ll likely be hunting for a team. It won’t be the Devils though. Why would the Devils move further north and into an older building? Yes, fan support is good, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Utica: Devils once played there. It is a feel good story in the league, especially seeing as how the Utica Memorial Auditorium will be playing host to the AHL All-Star Game. Fans pack the renovated but small barn. Ownership appears passionate and committed and yet the cloud hovers because their parent club, the Vancouver Canucks, are a Western Conference NHL club. Utica can provide the passion and support but again, do the Devils move further away and to an older/smaller building?
Manchester: This is a true wild card. Through no fault of their own, aside from having a parent club from Los Angeles, Manchester is losing its team, despite drawing an average of 5,492 fans per game. That number is just outside the top ten in AHL attendance. However, do the Devils move north and into New England? Does the market still make cost effective sense if it’s not closer to Newark and or not within close proximity to other AHL cities, especially if surrounding teams in Portland, Worcester and potentially Springfield, all bolt? Manchester has excellent support but a fit for the Devils?
Portland: New Jersey used to have its AHL club there when they were the Maine Mariners. The Portland Pirates entered the AHL in the same year that Albany did, so I do feel badly for them if the Arizona Coyotes yank their team out. Between a few affiliation changes and a tug of war regarding the team/county/arena in recent years, attendance has dropped. Again, as outlined with Manchester, distance between Portland and the NHL club, along with other AHL cities, probably doesn’t make it a fit for the Devils.
Worcester: See some of the other reasons already listed with Manchester and Portland. Worcester has been a proud member of the league, dating back to its days with the IceCats. Yet, if the Devils moved already from Lowell and Worcester is splitting hairs with Albany attendance wise, why would New Jersey go back in that direction?
Springfield: If you’re in the camp that believes that Colorado will move its prospects from Cleveland and that Columbus will uproot its prospects to Cleveland, that makes Springfield a potential landing spot. Yet, just like Worcester and the other New England teams I mentioned, distance and attendance wise, it isn’t an improvement over Albany. I mention it though because the one caveat could be that the league wants a team there, if only because the AHL has its headquarters based there, regardless of the affiliation.
Bridgeport/Hartford: If you’re a believer that the New York Islanders and or New York Rangers are going to move their AHL club to Long Island, after the Islanders move to Brooklyn, there might be an opening here. Both are closer to Newark and have pretty solid attendance and facilities. While those respective franchises and cities have been affiliated for well over a decade plus, if one opens up, you never know what could happen.
St. John’s/Norfolk: Both cities draw pretty well. Both will likely be losing their affiliates in the near future. Neither is close to Newark or really any other AHL city. Hence, those two destinations aren’t likely for the Devils.
Of course, all of this could be for naught and the Devils ultimately end up extending their lease with Albany for another five years.