UTICA, N.Y. - Saying goodbye is never easy, even if you've known the day would come for quite some time.
The Vancouver Canucks have announced its plans to move its AHL franchise west to Abbotsford, British Columbia, opting-out of an eight-year affiliation with the Utica Comets after this season.
It's a move that ends a long and prosperous partnership, but it's not one that took the Comets organization by surprise.
"Right out of the gate eight years ago we were always expecting this day to happen," said Comets President Rob Esche. "They let me know December 31st that they were going to be exercising that [opt-out] option, and they have that right to do."
Esche said that it was 'never a matter of if, but when' the Canucks would move their affiliate. Despite the two sides having a great working relationship, the geographical distance was a difficult obstacle over the years, especially this season amid the ongoing pandemic.
The original indications from the Vancouver organization was to be here in Utica for just a couple of years, but the support for the team from the fan base caused Vancouver to decide to develop their prospects here long-term.
Esche said that people within the Comets organization were so aware of the Canucks' intent to eventually relocate their prospects to the west coast, they even helped Vancouver research markets that could be potential landing spots, all while exploring their future options themselves.
"Through the eight years, it's not like we've been sitting around not preparing either," Esche said. "We've always balanced out who becomes available each year, and who doesn't."
Over the years, and especially since Vancouver's decision a few months ago to opt out became known within the AHL community, multiple NHL organizations have approached the Comets to discuss the possibility of entering an affiliation moving forward.
"It's a testament to the fans because the fan support drove a lot of teams to talk to us when Vancouver decided to exercise their option," he said. "It's going to be really exciting."
Unable to comment on exactly who will potentially be bringing their prospects to Utica in the immediate future, Esche did say that he is confident that the organization will remain an AHL affiliate to an NHL team.
Employees of the Comets and the Adirondack Bank Center are moving forward with plans for the 2021-22 AHL season.
Rumors have been swirling over the past month since it was revealed that Esche filed for a trademark of the name "Utica Devils" shortly before the New Jersey Devils announced they would be moving on from their affiliation with Binghamton.
However, Esche would not confirm that New Jersey will be coming to town and said there were many reasons for him filing for the trademark, citing the previous affiliation with the Devils from 1987-93.
"I tried getting the trademark years ago because I wanted to do kind of a throw back game about five years ago I think, but we never followed through with it," he said. "You get trademarks for a number of different reasons. One is to protect your own brand, or two, to make the path forward a little smoother and easier."
Esche also owns the trademark for the name "Utica Comets," with the Canucks already saying their new affiliate will have a new name and logo, and so there is the very real possibility that regardless of any new partnership, the Utica Comets name and brand will remain.
Regardless, in order for any of these potential moves to become official, they must get AHL Board of Governors approval.
The Board is meeting on Thursday at 1 p.m. to discuss many topics including this, and Esche said that more information regarding the immediate future of the Comets franchise can be expected after that meeting concludes.