By STEPHEN WHYNO (AP Hockey Writer)
SEA ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Seattle is one step away from landing an NHL franchise.
Team and city executives have already secured more than 30,000 season-ticket deposits, got an arena plan passed through local government and wowed the executive committee of owners. It all pays off Tuesday when the NHL Board of Governors is expected to approve Seattle as the home of the league’s 32nd franchise.
”Seattle’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the country,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said recently. ”It gives us a geographic balance. It creates a nice geographic rivalry with Vancouver. I know Vancouver’s particularly excited about the possibility. The ownership group, the plans for the arena – it’s all of the above. It’s never one factor. If you’re going to have a successful expansion application, all of the bases need to be touched and all of them need to be checked off as being appropriate and right.”
Timing is the only question.
Renovations to the downtown arena that will be the team’s home are scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2020. The uncertainty could lead the NHL to leave the door open to a 2020 or 2021 start or push it back just to be safe.
”Right now everything we’ve done is kind of geared toward 2020,” Seattle Hockey Partners senior adviser Dave Tippett said. ”If we can do it in 2020 (we will), but the other thing is you don’t want to start it being a month on the road or something, either.”
It’s more about when than if, given the success of the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion and the $650 million the new owners will pay to join. Seattle is the largest U.S. city without a major winter sports team since the NBA’s SuperSonics left in 2008 and it gives the NHL another big TV market.
”It’s a big city now. It’s a relatively wealthy place. There’s an awful lot going on between Boeing and the whole computer industry and all the rest of that stuff,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said. ”It nests very nicely with the teams that are already in the Pacific Northwest. And it gives us 32, which gives us the balance that you would want. In addition to that, when you’re looking at markets, if you really want to be a North American league, you want to be in the markets that matter when you can figure out a way to do it, and Seattle is certainly one of those.”
Tippett could feel the excitement building when he was back in Arizona over the Thanksgiving holiday, noting that people told him on the golf course they hoped Seattle would get a team.
The board’s executive committee voted unanimously in October to push the expansion bid forward and Bettman said he anticipated the full board doing the same. Approval requires a three-quarters vote.
”This can work long term,” Seattle Hockey President and CEO Tod Leiweke said. ”We have the right building plan, we have the support from the city, the fans are there.”
Fans will be watching Tuesday morning at a Seattle tavern when the board is expected to give final approval. Next steps will include moving forward on arena and practice facility plans and piecing together a hockey operations department that Tippett will likely be in charge of.
Before considering expansion, the board opens its annual two-day December meeting Monday with updates on the state of the league’s business and hockey operations. The board is also expected to be briefed on collective bargaining talks and the tentative settlement of a concussion lawsuit involving retired players.
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno