On a day, 17 years to the date of the last Calder Cup playoff series victory by a New Jersey Devils AHL affiliate, the club extended its lease with the Times Union Center, agreeing on a deal which will keep the Albany Devils in the Capital District in 2015-16. It marks the 23rd season of AHL hockey in downtown Albany, the 19th with a Devils affiliated squad and sixth with the current incarnation. Their home opener is October 24, 2015. Whether or not it’s the final one is up for conjecture.
Given the recent upheaval of teams moving westward, closer to home or both, it feels like virtually every team is on a year-to-year contract. A one-year extension could mean the club is readying to house its AHL prospects at Prudential Center or possibly Bridgeport, if the New York Islanders eventually move the Sound Tigers to Long Island. Conversely it could mean the Devils are using the one-year pact as leverage against the TU Center.
It has long been the philosophy of Devils President Lou Lamoriello, to have the AHL players at an arm’s length away from the big club. Hence, the reason why the AHL players were never moved to the Meadowlands, Trenton or Atlantic City and I personally believe Lou likes Albany. Having said that, with Lamoriello no longer being GM and a new ownership group in place, they may be ambivalent toward Albany and only caring about the bottom line. A bottom line which they and the building have been trying to make up for, ever since the New Jersey Nets bolted to Brooklyn.
While the TU Center was looking for a three-to-five-year deal, closer to the previous five-year agreement, one has to imagine the Devils are trying to make sure they get the most out of their landlord. This could mean a bigger marketing push by the arena and Albany County to actively promote the team, which could be a tall order given the playoff fact I opened this story with. Plus, despite solid print coverage by the likes of Pete Dougherty, Bill Cain and Phil Janack, the local TV and radio coverage is downright abysmal for a level of hockey which is one step away from the NHL. It would also help attendance wise if the team played at 7:00 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., instead of 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. More group sales and promotions would go a long way as well. Perhaps a Rob Skrlac/Patrik Elias/Steve Sullivan bobblehead night or a throwback Albany River Rats jersey with the NJ patches on the shoulders.
If this is the last hurrah for Albany and the Devils, the TU Center will likely have to scramble and convince another NHL owned club (Florida Panthers? Ottawa Senators? New York Rangers?) to set up shop. Otherwise, they’ll be attempting to justify $15.7 million in upgrades within the next two years, for a building to be dark (no the ECHL won’t work, see Arena Football 2) for 38 dates from October to April.
— Albany Devils (@AlbanyDevils) May 8, 2015