Seattle group makes its case for NHL expansion team

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NEW YORK (AP) — Key stakeholders trying to bring a new NHL franchise to Seattle presented their case to a group of team owners on Tuesday, emerging after a two-hour private meeting with cautious optimism that the league will embrace their plan to begin play as early as the 2020-21 season.

Seattle Hockey Partners President and CEO Tod Leiweke, majority owner David Bonderman, Mayor Jenny Durkan and minority owners Jerry Bruckheimer and David Wright were among those who met with the NHL Board of Governors’ executive committee.

It is now up to the league to decide the next steps – including a full board vote, possibly on Dec. 3, on whether to award Seattle the league’s 32nd franchise.

”I’m very confident we’re going to be able to move forward and get what we need from the NHL and the team and stick to the schedule so we have hockey in 2020,” Durkan said. ”They know we want it in 2020 and (the league would) like to have it in 2020, too, if we get the team.”

The NHL had been at 30 teams since 2000 when it decided in 2016 to expand to Las Vegas. The Golden Knights began play a year ago and made a stirring run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season.

That process began with a season-ticket drive the league approved in the winter of 2014 to see if Las Vegas would be a viable hockey market. Seattle sold 10,000 season-ticket deposits in 12 minutes, and team officials say they now have 32,000 as excitement builds for the return of a major professional winter sports team in the biggest U.S. market without one.

The ticket numbers, a plan to begin renovating downtown Seattle’s KeyArena and a video showcasing the benefits of Seattle expansion were all part of the presentation at the league office.

”With the mayor’s help, what we tried to get across was Seattle is ready for a team, we got potentially a facility that will get built, a partnership with the city and away we go,” Bonderman said. ”All we need is a franchise.”

All signs point to Seattle getting a team. Beyond the $650 million expansion fee, a team would give the NHL a presence in the U.S. Pacific Northwest with a natural geographic rival for the Vancouver Canucks and balance the Eastern and Western conferences at 16 teams each.

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Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly last month mentioned 2021 as a potential start date if the board approves a Seattle franchise. A 2020 start could be snarled if the owners or players vote in September 2019 to terminate the current collective bargaining agreement; if a new labor deal isn’t reached, it would expire Sept. 15, 2020, just a few weeks before the season.

Leiweke said the status of the CBA did not come up with the executive committee, and he and Bonderman pointed out that 2020 vs. 2021 was not as important as the overall goal of landing a franchise.

”This is not about (one) year. This is forever,” Bonderman said. ”This is a long-term partnership with the city and long-term issues, and you’re not going to get overwhelmed by some short-term issues.”

Leiweke, who along with brother Tim is spearheading the effort, was careful to say the group is not assuming a team is a done deal. The presentation was the latest and most important sell job, and now the league must make the next move.

”It’s the NHL who’s in control of this process,” Leiweke said. ”We’re not presumptuous, we’re not going to get in front of them and we’re not going to declare an early victory. We are going to wait and be patient and be completely respectful. It’s been a long time coming, and we can be patient.”

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