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Dave Tippett joins Seattle NHL group as senior advisor

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At this point it simply seems to be a matter of when, and not if, the NHL officially moves forward to expand to Seattle in the coming years. In the meantime, the potential ownership group led by Tod Leiweke continues to take the steps necessary to ensure it becomes a reality.

One of their more recent moves was the addition of former Arizona Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett as a senior advisor for the group.

According to the Seattle Times “nobody is ruling out” the possibilty that Tippett could one day become the first head coach of the yet-to-be-named team, but for now he will help oversee development of the organization.

Here is Tippett talking about his new role, via the Times’ Geoff Baker.

“The challenge of trying to build a team from the foundation up is something not a lot of people get the chance to do,’’ Tippett, 56, told me last week in lower Queen Anne, near his new office at the NHL group’s headquarters. “That’s what makes it very intriguing to me.’’

Tippett, a former winger for 11 NHL seasons with Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, will bring a hockey insider’s voice to everything, from where to locate the training facility to how to decorate the dressing rooms at a revamped KeyArena.

“There are a lot of times where you need somebody with some hockey experience, whether it be infrastructure like the dressing rooms, the training facilities, or putting together the groundwork of what a skeleton hockey staff would look like,’’ Tippett said.

A player for more than 11 years in the NHL, Tippett most recently worked in the NHL as the head coach for the Arizona Coyotes, a position he held between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 seasons. During his time in Arizona he led the Coyotes to the playoffs three times, including a stunning run to the Western Conference Final during the 2011-12 season. But after five consecutive non-playoff appearances Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways following the 2016-17 season.

He also coached the Dallas Stars for six years, making the playoffs five times.

Tippett’s addition to the Seattle group seems reminiscent of the role former NHL player Murray Craven took on with the Vegas Golden Knights during their expansion process when he joined Bill Foley’s group as an advisor. After serving in that role for two years he was officially named the senior vice president of the team in August, 2016.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Seattle NHL expansion group names Tod Leiweke team president

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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SEATTLE (AP) — During his first stint in Seattle, Tod Leiweke helped develop the Seattle Seahawks into a benchmark franchise.

He’s returning to the Northwest this time with a chance to build a franchise from scratch – pending NHL approval.

Leiweke was introduced Wednesday as the CEO and president of the prospective NHL expansion franchise seeking to call Seattle home beginning with the 2020 season. The announcement has been expected since Leiweke announced he was stepping down from his role with the NFL earlier this year. But it was another step forward for the expansion bid.

”It’s kind of fun to start from scratch because you can build a culture the way you would want a culture to be built with likeminded people who want to serve, who love the game of hockey. In this, it is a grand opportunity,” Leiweke said.

The prospective majority owner of the franchise, David Bonderman, said he believed there could be a possible conditional announcement about the franchise from the NHL in June and a potential formal announcement in September coinciding with upcoming NHL Board of Governors meetings.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

”We hope there is not any doubt about it and it’s certainly not just a formality. However, there is a process with the NHL and we expect to play through that process,” Bonderman said.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking before the playoff opener in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, wasn’t as optimistic, saying there is no set timeline for a decision on Seattle’s expansion bid.

”We don’t have a timetable,” Bettman said. ”That would be nothing more than speculation. I would be surprised.”

While announcing the president and CEO for a team that doesn’t exist yet might seem a bit presumptuous, Leiweke brings the kind of clout that will only strengthen a bid that almost appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Oak View Group, a partner in the franchise and the group responsible for renovating KeyArena, is expected to begin construction on the building later this fall and have the remodel done for the 2020 season. The season-ticket drive that started on March 1 was a rousing success and was capped at 33,000 deposits.

Leiweke got his start in hockey with the Minnesota Wild. He also worked in Vancouver and most recently helped build Tampa Bay into a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. Leiweke left the Lightning in 2015 to become the COO of the NFL and didn’t have any interest in leaving the league office until the project in Seattle began to gain real traction.

”The fact is I found the NFL to be a pretty amazing and fascinating place to work and I was starting to get quite comfortable in my role there so I wasn’t looking,” Leiweke said. ”But I think the stars aligned and my son’s advice was, ‘Dad, how can you not do this?’ Today, I think he’s right.”

Leiweke’s job will be to capitalize on a market whose demographics have changed significantly since he left the Seahawks in 2010 after being largely responsible for the team hiring head coach Pete Carroll. Seattle is the largest market in the country without a winter pro sports franchise and has seen an influx of wealth in recent years. Even when he was running the Seahawks, Leiweke believed Seattle was ripe for the NHL and the response to the season-ticket drive only strengthened that belief.

”It really is a great fit. I always thought this could be a great hockey market and it proved it. So far, so good,” Leiweke said. ”Now it’s on us because I think people are going to show up opening day ready to believe and what are we going to put out there? Does it all connect?”

Leiweke’s hiring also reunites him with his brother, Tim, the CEO of Oak View Group, which created the privately funded deal to finally solve Seattle’s arena issue.

”I’m so in awe of what we did here,” Tod Leiweke said. ”This has been a challenging issue and my brother came in here and figured it out.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

‘Shell-shocked’: Seattle NHL ticket-drive success makes big impression

Oak View Group
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The original goal of the Oak View Group was to hit 10,000 season ticket deposits sold as they started the process towards getting an NHL expansion franchise in Seattle by the 2020-21 season. The reaction from the fans was overwhelming, with 10,000 being sold in the first 12 minutes after the season-ticket drive opened on Thursday and 25,000 claimed in the first hour.

“Shell-shocked is best way to put it,” OVG Chief Executive Tim Leiweke told TSN. “Impressive,” was the one-word email response from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly to Seattle’s KING5.

[NHL Seattle season-ticket drive reaches 25K sold in one hour]

The drive, which saw fans put deposits down of $500 for general season tickets or $1,000 for lower-level center ice seats, will likely end sometime on Friday, as the number has reached nearly 29,000. KeyArena, which is set to underdo a $660 million renovation, holds 17,500 for hockey, so some who make a deposit will be put on a priority waitlist for full or partial tickets. OVG expects to contact fans by May about specific seat locations and pricing.

“I think the NHL is surprised, very pleasantly surprised,” Leiweke said via the Seattle Times. “And so I think they’re very happy. We still have work to do. But I think it sends a great message to the league and it’s what we’ve been telling them about Seattle. So, I think this is a great day for the league.”

Leiweke and his partners, billionaire David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, submitted a $10 million application for an expansion in February and will have to pony up another $650 million should the NHL approve a 32nd franchise, which could happen during June’s Board of Governor’s meeting.

“By June, Gary Bettman will look at us and say, ‘hey that’s a great market, we should be there,'” Bruckheimer said earlier this week.

Judging by Seattle’s immediate response to the chance of major league hockey returning to the city, it’s time to start working on your 2020 expansion mock drafts. There’s now no doubt that a 32nd franchise is coming.

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Seattle season-ticket drive reaches 25K sold in one hour

NHL Seattle
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The NHL Seattle ticket drive kicked off on Thursday morning and boy, did it go over well in the Emerald City.

According to Oak View Group, which is headed up by Chief Executive Tim Leiweke, and partnering with billionaire David Bonderman and Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer, there were 10,000 season tickets — their original goal — sold in 12 minutes following the 10 a.m. PT start. Within an hour, over 25,000 had been sold.

Season ticket deposits are $500 and it’s $1,000 for club season tickets, which will be located in the lower bowl at center ice.

If you want a comparison of how well this drive has gone for Seattle, it took the Vegas Golden Knights two days to get 5,000 season-ticket deposits, a month to reach 9,000 and 18 months to hit 16,000 sold. KeyArena, which is to undergo a $660 million renovation in time for a potential 2020-21 start for an NHL team, holds 17,500, so there will be a priority waitlist for those who were successful in snatching up tickets which could include partials.

If OVG is successful in getting a franchise to Seattle, there is a $650 million expansion fee to be paid, $150 million more than what Bill Foley forked over for Vegas.

“It’s a dream come true. I’m so excited to bring this sport, which is a great sport, to this community that so needs a winter sport,” Bruckheimer told TSN. “They’re going to be overwhelmed by the entertainment that this sport brings to this town.”

So it’s pretty safe to say that Seattle’s chances for an NHL franchise are just about 100 percent after today’s developments. On Wednesday, while in Vancouver for the 2019 draft announcement, Commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated the league’s stance — which was promised to the Seattle group — that should they get a team they will experience the same expansion draft rules that the Golden Knights did a year ago.

[Backers of NHL team in Seattle hope for decision in June]

The expansion process for Vegas saw each NHL team protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender; or eight skaters and one goalie. Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was also given the opportunity to sign any restricted or unrestricted free agent before July 1, which would count as a player lost.

Of course, while Vegas is shattering expansion records in its inaugural year, you would think NHL GMs would approach the process in 2020 a little smarter than they did for the Golden Knights. We’ll see on that.

Bringing Seattle to the NHL would mean a 16th team in the West, balancing out the two conferences. Will we see some changes in how the divisions/conferences look in 2020? Bettman told the Tampa Bay Times in January that realignment “doesn’t strike me as being one of the more complicated issues if expansion is going forward.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL wants Seattle, but is the Emerald City a hockeytown?

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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By Tim Booth (AP Sports Writer)

KENT, Wash. (AP) — They showed up on a Tuesday night in early January to enjoy the 2-for-1 beers and hot dogs, the free parking, the $15 tickets a few rows off the ice and the chance to chant ”Portland sucks,” for three hours.

Some of the more than 5,000 people in attendance wore the jerseys of the Islanders, Sharks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, Bruins, Canucks, Golden Knights and of course, the hometown Seattle Thunderbirds of the junior-level Western Hockey League. Someday it may be the Sasquatch, Totems or Sockeyes or whatever a potential future NHL franchise in Seattle ends up adopting as its nickname.

This scene plays out regularly inside the ShoWare Center, about 20 miles southeast of downtown Seattle. Junior hockey in Seattle has a storied history. Hockey’s history in the Emerald City dates back more than a century to when the Seattle Metropolitans hoisted the 1917 Stanley Cup.

All indications are that the NHL and Seattle are on the verge of a marriage sometime in 2018. The arrival of an NHL franchise – likely in 2020 or 2021 depending on construction of a remodeled Seattle Center arena – will fill a void in the gloomy months of the sports calendar and drop the NHL into the biggest market in the country without a winter sports team.

But can a booming Seattle eventually become a hockeytown?

”It’s the last place in the United States in my opinion to catch on to hockey,” said former Philadelphia Flyers general manager and current Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell.

”Everyone assumes that because we’re close to Canada we’re into hockey and that’s not the case,” Farwell continued. ”There is no reason this can’t be a good hockey town and I think there is a lot of pluses.”

The first test of Seattle’s willingness to embrace the NHL will arrive in the coming months when the prospective NHL ownership group begins a season-ticket drive, the same way the league tested Las Vegas.

But finding a foothold in Seattle will be an examination of how starved fans are for another team. Basketball is embedded in the DNA of the region thanks to 41 years of the SuperSonics until 2008 and a lengthy history of producing NBA talent. When the rain of the fall and winter drive young athletes inside, they grab a basketball and head for the nearest gym to play pickup games.

Basketball courts and coffee shops seem to be on every corner, but ice rinks are scarce.

”The chance to participate and stay involved and play the game needs ice rinks and that’s all it would take,” Farwell said. ”There’s no reason this couldn’t be grown to be a good hockey city and center and stuff but it’s not automatic and it’s not just going to happen.”

Any NHL team in Seattle would find a completely different landscape than a decade ago when the Sonics and NBA moved to Oklahoma City and the city lost its winter sports outlet.

Seattle’s skyline is filled with as many construction cranes as snowcapped peaks in the surrounding mountains. Amazon has taken over an entire section of the city, joined nearby by satellite offices of Google and Facebook. The amount of wealth now in the Seattle market is part of the reason Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke has regularly called Seattle ”a brilliant marketplace” and one of the most enticing expansion opportunities in pro sports history.

Seattle has become a city of transplants due to the booming local economy. A hockey franchise would provide those newcomers a team to rally around, much like what happened when the Sounders of the MLS arrived in 2009.

But it’s a different sports marketplace than a decade ago, when ticket sales and television revenues were driving franchise success. The globalization of sports due to technology has become a challenge for all leagues, said Jennifer Hoffman of the College of Education at the University of Washington.

”I think the question about our population is what sports are they interested in? And that’s going to be a challenge for all of our franchises, our big franchises and our smaller ones,” Hoffman said. ”It’s not a Seattle phenomenon but we’re a good case for this point in history where digital transition is really occurring and it’s really hard to know who your fans are and where they are.”

John Barr believes there are plenty of potential hockey fans in the Seattle market. A Bay Area transplant, Barr has become the voice of hockey fans with his NHLtoSeattle.com website and social accounts. Barr got hooked on the sport while attending San Jose games when the Sharks arrived the Bay Area. He’s regularly makes trips to Boston, Minnesota, Montreal, Nashville and Las Vegas for games.

”The Seahawks run this town and I think a lion share of people obviously want the Sonics back,” Barr said. ”I totally understand the hierarchy there, but I just think this is a great opportunity for the area to have the NHL and have a winter sport.”

Season tickets are just one of several significant obstacles. Arena construction won’t begin until later this year with an ambitious goal of completion in late 2020. There are also transportation issues near the arena site.

And the franchise needs to be awarded in the first place. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wouldn’t even entertain discussion about Seattle recently.

”The application has not yet been filed so any speculation about Seattle is, at this point, a little premature,” Bettman said.

In the corner of his office, Thunderbirds Vice President Colin Campbell has a photo of Wayne Gretzky in the foreground with Campbell behind the glass. He grew up in Edmonton and was a Zamboni driver for the Oilers in his younger years. Now he ponders the future of hockey in Seattle with the NHL on the horizon.

”It always amazed me when I first got here that people didn’t even know there was a hockey team in town. Well, that’s still the case,” said Campbell, who moved to Seattle in 1995. ”It’s still out there, and yet we’re doing very well in this building and everything is going good. But it’s a big market, it’s a tough market to reach … so with an NHL team coming in and working together it will create new opportunities to grow.”