Robert Esche, president of the Utica Comets, appears to be preparing for a possible change in affiliation.

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It’s not a done deal, but there’s a chance the Utica Comets may not be affiliated with the Vancouver Canucks in 2021-22.

Comets president Robert Esche registered “Utica Devils” as a trademark with the U.S. government’s Trademark and Patent Office earlier this month, a step that suggests he’s preparing for the possibility his Utica, N.Y.-based team will change NHL parent clubs ahead of next season.

“I’m not aware of any information regarding this,” a spokesperson for the Utica Comets said in an email.

The Canucks’ current six-year deal with the Comets, which began with the 2019-20 season, features an opt-out clause after the current season.

The Comets have been a dual affiliation this season between the Canucks and the St. Louis Blues, due to COVID-19 border controls. The Canucks kept a number of players on their taxi squad who would normally be assigned outright to the AHL and also loaned several players to Canadian-based AHL teams so they wouldn’t have to quarantine as long if they were to be recalled.

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Since first joining up in the 2013-14 season, the Canucks have taken care of player and coach salaries, while Esche’s Mohawk Valley Garden Inc. pays for the rest. The Canucks own the actual AHL franchise but the physical team belongs to Esche and his partners, who pay the Canucks an annual fee to operate the franchise.

The Devils’ minor league squad is currently based in Binghamton, N.Y., which is about a two-hour drive south from Utica. The Binghamton Devils’ current deal with the New Jersey Devils expires after next season, but the deal is now in dispute, according to WBNG-TV. The AHL told the Binghamton TV station that they had not received a request from the New Jersey Devils to move the team.

Whether the Canucks would simply switch affiliations to Binghamton isn’t known.

Canucks ownership has expressed interest in using the Abbotsford Centre, which was formerly home to the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, as a base for their AHL team in the past. A number of NHL teams, including the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, have moved their AHL teams to California in recent years.

Robert Esche’s trademark registration for “Utica Devils” from US government’s trademark registry. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Robert Esche’s trademark registration for “Utica Devils” from US government’s trademark registry. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) Photo by tmsearch.uspto.gov

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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