Senators moving AHL franchise to Belleville, Ont.

Eugene Melnyk. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

OTTAWA — The Ottawa Senators are moving their American Hockey League franchise to Belleville, Ont., for the 2017-18 season.

Team owner Eugene Melnyk announced on Monday morning that he had purchased the AHL franchise, which has been located in Binghamton, N.Y., since 2002.

The Senators and City of Belleville agreed to an eight-year agreement and the team will be called the Belleville Senators.

“The people of Belleville are a deeply passionate and proud hockey community,” Melnyk said. “This community has truly earned the return of hockey and I am committed to making the Belleville Senators an integral part of the city.”

Belleville is entering its second season without a hockey team of junior rank or higher after the Ontario Hockey League's Bulls were relocated to Hamilton last year. The Bulls played in Belleville from 1981 to 2015.

Belleville's Yardmen Arena has an Olympic sized ice surface and seats 3,238 with additional room for 500 more in standing room.

The City of Belleville will start $18.5 million in renovations immediately to modernize Yardmen Arena.

"Our city has a long and storied history with junior hockey but today we welcome professional hockey to Belleville and our soon to be renovated Yardmen Arena," Belleville Mayor Taso Christopher said.