The Utica Comets have been the AHL affiliate of the Canucks for eight seasons.
A month ago, Comets President Robert Esche registered “Utica Devils” as a trademark. Previously, the Utica Devils were the New Jersey Devils affiliate of the NHL from 1987 to 1993.
Shortly after, the Devils informed their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Devils, that they would be moving the team. It didn’t take a big leap in deductive reasoning to figure out that their likely new location was in Utica.
This meant the Canucks would need a new location for their affiliate. While they would have been happy with their arrangement in Utica, it wasn’t necessarily a permanent fix. Traveling between the two clubs was prohibitive, on the one hand, making it difficult to call American League prospects at any time. To compound the problem, Utica does not have an international airport.
The Canucks needed an AHL branch closer to Vancouver, preferably in the same time zone, and preferably with an international airport to significantly facilitate the prospect of flying to different NHL cities. Maybe it could even be a city that has hosted an AHL team in the past, with an AHL-ready arena.
Abbotsford does the trick.
Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini confirmed the team’s intention to move their AHL affiliate from Utica to Abbotsford on Tuesday.
“With the momentum starting to take shape, we are pleased to confirm our goal of bringing our AHL franchise and our Canucks hopes back to the city of Abbotsford,” Aquilini said in a statement. “This move would provide important opportunities for our team and the community and open a new chapter, bringing Canucks hockey to even more fans in the Lower Mainland.
Details of the agreement with the city of Abbotsford have not yet been finalized and the partnership agreement has yet to be approved by the AHL board of directors.
Abbotsford was previously home to the Calgary Flames AHL affiliate, known as the Abbotsford Heat. It was a clunky arrangement, with branding, logos and jerseys that relied heavily on the Flames, making it a tough sell to Canucks fans in the Fraser Valley.
Abbotsford City also lost millions of taxpayer dollars over the Heat’s five years at Abbotsford, with a contract ensuring the city would make up for any shortfall in the team’s annual budget. In total, the Heat cost the city more than $ 12 million.
Abbotsford City likely learned a lesson from the deal and are unlikely to sign such a favorable contract for the Canucks. On the flip side, success might be easier to achieve for a team that boasts of having Canucks prospects just a short drive from Vancouver. In addition, the merchandise borrowed from the Canucks brand would likely sell well to Canucks fans across the province.
The team will have a new name, brand and logo according to the Canucks’ statement and will play in the AHL Pacific Division with teams from California, Arizona and Colorado. This will mean more trips for the AHL team compared to the bus rides from Utica to their rivals in New York.