SEATTLE — On his first trip to Seattle since the city was granted the NHL’s 32nd franchise, Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a couple more rewards for the future franchise’s investment.
Bettman said the league has promised Seattle it will host All-Star weekend within its first seven seasons, with the team slated to begin play in 2021-22. Bettman also says Seattle will host the NHL draft, and that event will likely be awarded before the All-Star Game arrives.
”It doesn’t mean we are going to wait seven years,” Bettman said. ”We’re going to be bringing league events here. This is where we want to be.”
Bettman’s unexpected and informal announcement was part of his first visit to Seattle since the franchise was approved by the league’s Board of Governors in early December. Bettman met with members of the ownership group, political leaders in the city, fans who have placed deposits on season tickets and reviewed the status of the massive renovation of the arena at Seattle Center where the team will play.
Seattle’s ownership group has put up over $1.5 billion in expansion fees, upgrades to the building formerly known as KeyArena, and a state-of-the-art practice facility that is expected to open in time to host the first training camp.
”If you talk about in terms of kicking the tires, the tires are in great shape,” Bettman said. ”We couldn’t be more excited. When the board made the decision to come to Seattle, we knew it was the right decision, it would be a great decision and everything that has transpired has not only lived up to expectation but has exceeded our expectations.”
The franchise initially hoped to open for the 2020 season, but it is using the additional year to ensure the arena is operational well ahead of the team’s home opener. It also gives the team more time to put together its hockey staff.
The team still doesn’t have a name or color scheme. Bettman said the league would mostly stay out of the selection process, aside from working with the Seattle franchise in colors, trademarks and other logistical parts of the expansion name. Seattle team president and CEO Tod Leiweke said the goal is to have a name announced by the middle of 2019. The franchise will be taking major input from fans that have put deposits down on season tickets.
Leiweke said the team’s goal is to have a portal launched within the next 60 days for season-ticket depositors to provide feedback and to inform them of the timeframe for decisions and announcements moving forward.
”If I have my way, their fingerprints are going to be all over this franchise. Certainly a team name, but they’re going to help us build this,” Leiweke said.
Some fans are hoping to see a return of the Seattle Metropolitans – a historic name in Seattle, since the Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917. That name might be off the table, though, since the NHL has a division with that name.
Bettman was asked if that name can be ruled out.
”Viscerally, yes,” he said, ”but I never say never to anything.”
Roundtable: Naming Seattle’s NHL team; GMs on the hot seat
You have the power to name to the expansion NHL Seattle franchise. What are you choosing?
SEAN: Kraken is already a popular choice, and as a fan of hockey history (and their original jerseys) I’d love to see the Seattle group bring back the Metropolitans name. But do you then keep the Metropolitan Division name? The NHL is stubborn for change sometimes, so I doubt it.
Let’s get crazy in this post-Gritty world and go with Sasquatch. It’s perfect for the region (ever watch “Finding Bigfoot?”) and would allow Seattle to welcome back Squatch, the Sonics old mascot. The jerseys would be great. The plushy toys at the arena team stores would be sold out on a regular basis and he’d be a welcomed addition to the annual mascot game during All-Star Weekend.
Squatch is legendary, and with the NBA likely returning to Seattle at some point, might as well get him started before he has double duty. He was a dynamic performer, willing to take big risks to entertain the crowd, and even had his own theme song, thanks for Chris from Presidents of the United States of America:
JAMES: Deep down, my answer is the Sonics/Supersonics, but I’m aware that a ton of people from Seattle are giving me the stink-eye just for bringing that up, so I relent. Go ahead and name the Seattle team after the Kraken, or some other mystical and/or tuff beast.
For my money, the greater battle revolves around the mascot.
Allow me to introduce “Jittery,” an anthropomorphic cappuccino mug with cartoonish arms, legs, and comical googly eyes. Let’s face it; we’re in a Post-Gritty world, so you have to go big – which usually means some combination of garish, frightening, funny, and cute – or go home.
Jittery would have the potential to edge the Golden Knights’ gila monster, with the far-flung dream of at least competing with Gritty for viral potential/mindshare.
The greatest potential would be in what you could put in the Jittery’s head, which, again, is a coffee mug. Would mysterious, coffee-like liquid splash out of its head when Jittery is excitedly celebrating a goal? Would Jittery cry coffee tears upon defeat? Maybe you could fill Jittery’s head with toys/treats for the kiddos, and the young-at-heart. Just imagine Seattle winning a Stanley Cup, but drinking out of their mascot’s head, instead.
This is clearly a bullet-proof, genius concept, and I demand royalties.
ADAM: I know there is virtually no chance of it happening, and I think any reference to it has always been made in a joking manner (or maybe even a half-joking manner), but I am 100 percent on board with the Seattle Sasquatch. I think the biggest reason I like it is just for the mascot possibilities. Look at how crazy everyone went over Gritty. But I think Sasquatch seems to have just as much potential, maybe even more. Think Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.
But given that Sasquatch doesn’t seem to be a realistic option, I think I can accept Kraken. I was originally opposed to the Sockeye suggestion but I’ve even come around on that, too, and I assume Sockeye Salmon hitting the ice will be a thing at some point no matter what. I’m not on board with Metropolitans. I get the history — and I love hockey history — but we need something new, fresh, unique. Sasquatch is the answer.
JOEY: I’m going with Metropolitans. That was the team’s name when they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, and that’s the name they should keep. Yes, I realize that you’d have to re-name the Metropolitan Division, but I don’t care. There’s hockey history behind the name and I think it would be pretty cool if they came back with it in 2021.
SCOTT: Seattle Kraken. Scrap the skyscraper odes and all that other garbage and RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
I’m all for this shift in marketing philosophy made popular by the Philadelphia Flyers this year with Gritty. It’s opened the door to other possible ideas that are, well, not just the same old cliche, safe stuff we’re used. Seattle Kraken has so much potential. Incredible jerseys, a ridiculous number of options for a mascot, a title sponsor with the Kraken Rum brand. There’s probably some death metal band with Kraken in their name that could sing the anthems and fit right into the Seattle music scene vibe.
I’m not holding out much hope here. They’ll probably be named the Skyscrapers or something like that with the Space Needle as their logo and some type of fish as a mascot.
We talk a lot about head coaches and hot seats, but what about some general managers who could follow in Ron Hextall’s footsteps out the door?
SEAN: It’s pretty amazing that Marc Bergevin’s seat has cooled considerably when you think about all the talk last season, but the Canadiens are playing better than expected and owner Geoff Molson isn’t close to making that kind of move.
Two GMs who should be feeling the heat are Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman. I’ve harped on Armstrong since the Mike Yeo firing and am curious how long owner Tom Stillman will wait before making a change. Another season appears to be wasting away and some big names could be out the door by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Then what? It won’t be a complete teardown, just a retooling if that’s what happens. But does he get one more season to make it work?
The move to fire Joel Quenneville hasn’t gone as planned and Chicago could be another place where big names are dealt, whether by the trade deadline or in the summer. Bowman’s helped construct championship teams and now some of those heavy-term, big money extensions have hamstrung building around the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Another playoff-less season won’t make upper management happy and you wonder if the changes won’t stop with Quenneville.
JAMES: Honestly, it boggles my mind that Peter Chiarelli survived last season, so if his Hitchcock Hail Mary falls short, that Oilers era should come to a merciful end. It’s nigh-criminal to accomplish so little with Connor McDavid and a bucket of other high-profile picks (which Chiarelli’s squandered either through trades, bad picks, or stuttered development).
I like a lot of what Doug Armstrong’s managed, particularly since – beyond Alex Pietrangelo – the Blues really haven’t been built by lottery picks. Still, it’s clear that the Blues need a change of direction, and a fresh voice would be more inclined to undergo the painful, necessary surgery to right the ship … which may, in fact, come down to trading Pietrangelo.
There’s also Ken Holland, if the Red Wings truly are planning on moving to Steve Yzerman, but can’t say out loud because of tampering.
Three more who I’d say are less pertinent, but interesting to watch:
• Jim Nill – Yes, he’s made some great trades, not unlike Armstrong. But the Stars also failed to truly take advantage of Jamie Benn‘s former-bargain contract, and seem headed toward the same with Tyler Seguin‘s $5.75M expiring after 2018-19. They’ve made significant missteps in slowing down their style (baffling with Seguin & Co. as their best players), failed to find difference-making goalies despite paying huge money, and have whiffed hard on some key drafts. Nill’s been there since April 2013. It’s fair to wonder about him if Dallas can’t make big strides.
• John Chayka – The Coyotes are in a much better place than they were when Chayka took over, and it would be nice to see him get some more time to bring them to the next level.
Sometimes sports can be especially cruel, however, and there are factors that make you wonder about Chayka. For one, the Coyotes have made some bold moves to get better, yet they seem on track to miss the playoffs once again. Ownership might grow impatient.
Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the ownership situation is often in flux, and if that changes, they might want to bring in “their guy.” Hopefully Chayka gets at least a bit more time, but it’s something to watch, either way.
ADAM: My answer earlier this season was Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton, but the Oilers have gone on enough of a roll and Ken Hitchcock seems to have them doing something right (mostly playing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl until the wheels fall off) and I think that is going to buy him some time.
I think now we have to look over at the Central Division and either Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or Stan Bowman in Chicago.
The Blues spent a ton of money and gave up a ton of assets this summer after missing the playoffs a year ago, and now they stink. They already fired the coach, so that card has been played, and the next logical conclusion is the guy that built the team. Other than a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015-16 this has been a first-or second-round team at its best (usually a first-round team) and now is on track to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row. Not a great sign for the GM who has, again, already played his “try to save the season” card by changing coaches.
This might be a controversial position to take, but I think if Stan Bowman were named Stan … Smith. Or Stan Johnson. Or anything other than Stan Bowman his seat would probably be a LOT warmer than it is now. His track record in Chicago is obviously great, but it’s been a few years now since the Blackhawks have been a Stanley Cup team, they missed the playoffs a year ago, are currently one of the worst teams in the league, and it didn’t really have to be THIS bad. I know they had salary cap constraints and they have some big contracts, but he has made a lot of questionable to bad moves over the past couple of years. Then he went and fired the most successful coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in NHL history and the team has completely sunk after that. Not sure the Blackhawks are going to make a change now or even after this season, but if this season keeps going as it is and they do not get better next season they might consider doing something.
JOEY: You can’t mention general managers being on the hot seat without bringing up Doug Armstrong’s name. Last season, he traded Paul Stastny away because he felt his team was a year away from being a serious threat, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018-19. He pulled the trigger on a major deal for Ryan O'Reilly over the summer, and although O’Reilly’s been good, the team simply hasn’t been. Armstrong has fired a coach this season and if the Blues can’t turn it around, he’ll be next. With Jake Allen struggling for the most part over the last few seasons, Armstrong hasn’t found a solution to the problem between the pipes. This might be it.
Stars GM Jim Nill is also likely on thin ice. His team has some high-end talent, but depth has been an issue for them since he’s taken over. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg can only carry the team so far. Getting contributions from the rest of the team has been an issue. As of this moment, the Stars are on the outside of the playoff picture. If they were to miss the postseason again, you’d have to think that someone will play the price. It won’t be new head coach Jim Montgomery, so who else can it be but the GM?
And you can’t forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Chiarelli. Like Armstrong, Chiarelli also made a coaching change to try to get his team going. The Oilers are currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, but if they were to fall out of the playoff picture again at the end of the season, you’d have to think that Edmonton’s decision makers will want to make a change. You can’t just keep wasting all of Connor McDavid’s great years.
SCOTT: It would seem that Peter Chiarelli has bought himself some time after bringing in Ken Hitchcock to be the team’s savior. Edmonton is in a playoff spot, which isn’t something you would have uttered a month ago.
Of course, a losing streak of four or five games would change the above narrative, so Chiarelli is still certainly in the conversation and is by no means out of the woods just yet. He’s done little to improve this team since he arrived and still probably needs a miracle to happen if he’s to be in the same position this time next year.
Sticking in the west, Doug Armstrong’s leash must be retracting a bit. There were a lot of people who believed the Blues won the summer. But as we approach Christmas, we now know that wasn’t the case.
The Blues don’t look half bad on paper, but their on-ice product has been truly poor this season. Maybe the Blues just need to head in a new direction.
The last guy I have on a hot seat is Stan Bowman. If Bowman’s last name wasn’t Bowman, he’d probably already be gone.
I suppose he bought some time firing Joel Quenneville, but it’s clear Quenneville wasn’t the problem. Jeremy Colliton has been tasked with the impossible and it hasn’t worked out so far.
Bowman did well to win the Stanley Cup three times (partly due to drafting done before he got there), but there’s little coming up through the system these days that provide any hope for better times ahead. And trades to get picks and younger assets don’t seem to be in the cards either (see: Brent Seabrook contract). All the “bad” contracts are shrouded with no-movement clauses.
SEATTLE (AP) — The celebration outside the building Seattle’s NHL team will eventually call home Wednesday came with all the formality of a groundbreaking event with the principals taking turns giving remarks and ceremonially shoveling dirt.
It also came with a new price tag even higher than what was stated a day earlier when Seattle was awarded the NHL’s 32nd franchise.
The cost now is $850 million for the new arena at Seattle Center, according to Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke, with construction expected to get started almost immediately. That’s an increase of $200 million from the initial projections for the privately financed project, but the principals involved believe the increased investment is part of making the new building one of the top arenas in the country.
”We never value engineered. That to me was an amazing commitment on behalf of ownership,” Leiweke said. ”We did not do any value ownership on this project. Everything we dreamed about and more we have kept in this building and will write the check.”
The ceremonial event – complete with heavy construction equipment sitting nearby the stage waiting – concluded a whirlwind 36 hours for hockey fans in the region. While it seemed a foregone conclusion, the unanimous vote from the NHL Board of Governors on Tuesday ended a lengthy dance between the league and the city and solved Seattle’s winter sports void created when the SuperSonics departed in 2008.
The franchise will begin with the 2021-22 season after the league and ownership group decided not to risk an already tight arena construction schedule. Rather than having the franchise start for the 2020 season with the potential of delays possibly creating adverse conditions for the new team, the launch was delayed by a year.
That does provide a cushion in the construction timeline, but it’s not a complete year. Leiweke noted the start of the hockey franchise will be pushed back a year to October 2021, the extra time on getting the arena finished is only a few months. The goal is to have the building open by March or April of 2021 so that the WNBA Seattle Storm can play the 2021 season in the building and other events can be scheduled to start recouping the investment on the project.
Tod Lewieke, the CEO and president of NHL Seattle, said the additional time should allow the team to have its three-rink practice facility completed in time for the team’s first training camp in 2021. The team also intends to have its expansion draft in the new arena in the summer of 2021.
And the extended time frame should reduce some of the construction disruptions in a neighborhood that is dense with condos and apartments.
”We’ve always wanted to build in a very responsible way so we’re going got have a little more time to do that,” Tod Leiweke said.
By the time the entirety of all the projects and investments in the franchise is realized with the team’s first game – arena, expansion fee, practice facility and other costs – bringing the franchise to Seattle could end up running in the neighborhood of $2 billion.
”This marketplace is brilliant,” Tim Leiweke said. ”This marketplace is the fastest growing marketplace in North America. So it demands brilliance and we’re going to answer it so we make sure we don’t sit here five years after it opens and say ‘we could have done better.’ We’re going to be great day one and that’s what Seattle deserves.”
The National Hockey League’s 32nd franchise will be in Seattle after the league’s Board of Governors voted on Tuesday to approve the expansion application submitted by Seattle Hockey Partners, fronted by billionaire David Bonderman, Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer and CEO Tod Leiweke.
The vote needed 75 percent approval — 24 votes — to pass. It passed unanimously according to Commissioner Gary Bettman.
“Today is an exciting and historic day for our League as we expand to one of North America’s most innovative, beautiful and fastest-growing cities,” Bettman. “We are delighted to add David Bonderman, Tod Leiweke and the entire NHL Seattle group to the National Hockey League family. And we are thrilled that Seattle, a city with a proud hockey history that includes being the home for the first American team ever to win the Stanley Cup, is finally joining the NHL.”
A ticket drive was held in March and “shell-shocked” the ownership group when their goal of 10,000 season tickets sold was surpassed in the opening 12 minutes. By the end of the first hour over 25,000 had been purchased.
Where and when will they play?
On Wednesday, an $800M renovation of Key Arena will begin, per Leiweke. They are targeting a spring 2021 completion date. The building will hold 17,400 for hockey and there is hope that the NBA will make a return someday.
With the potential for another NHL lockout and just to be safe in case of any construction delays, the Seattle team will drop the puck for the 2021-22 season.
“They’ve always felt that we should have a little more time to build the arena right,” Bruckheimer said. “We wanted to bring it to 2020-21 because we want to get going right away, but it’s not fair to the fans or to the players to not have a 100 percent finished arena when we start.”
The ownership group is also planning to build a practice facility which will feature three ice sheets.
Aligning the divisions
When Seattle does enter the league, they will play out of the Pacific Division and the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central Division (here come the “Coyotes to Houston” rumors) so all four divisions will feature eight teams. The two conferences will also be balanced with 16 teams. Bettman said that the Coyotes have drawn better against Central Division teams than Pacific Division teams, which played a part in the realignment.
“It was at the end of the day the simplest, most logical and least disruptive option we had available to us and I think it’ll work well for the Coyotes,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly.
What does this means for Vegas?
Seattle’s addition will mean two things for the Golden Knights. First, they won’t get a cut of the $650M expansion fee, which will mean approximately $21M will go to the other 30 NHL clubs once the 32nd team enters the league. Vegas also will not have to take part in the June 2021 expansion draft.
The Seattle expansion draft will feature the same rules that the Golden Knights had to work with, an assurance the league gave them early in this process.
Who’s running the show?
Former NHL head coach Dave Tippett was hired as senior advisor in June and has no interest in getting back behind the bench. He told Sports Illustrated last week that he won’t start looking at potential general managers until “late spring.”
What’s in a name?
The Seattle Times held a contest allowing readers to vote on a potential name for the expansion franchise. Over 146,000 votes were cast and Sockeyes beat out Totems. There are plenty of possibilities and SHP vice-chairman David Wright told SI that “certainly in the spring” a name could be determined. The Metropolitans played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915 to 1924 and won the Stanley Cup in 1917.
The NHL will soon have 32 teams if Seattle is approved as expected next week. An even balance between conferences. A cross-border rival for the Vancouver Canucks in the Pacific Northwest.
Surely the league is done growing for a while?
Maybe not. Two and a half years after voting to add a team in Las Vegas in what has been a rousing success, the NHL has plenty of options when it comes to what’s next. No North American professional sports league has stretched past the number of 32, but no one is ruling it out for the NHL to get there on this continent or beyond.
”The leagues adapt, they look around and they make judgments: Are there markets we would like to go into? Can they support the teams at the revenue levels that we need? If we expand too much too fast, do we dilute the talent such that the product suffers? And those are all judgment calls in the end,” NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said. ”Some leagues and owners are more cautious than others. But sooner or later I would like to believe that in the kind of economy we have, all potential avenues will be explored.”
Considering the success of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, Seattle has seemed a no-brainer from the beginning and no one expects anything but approval from the Board of Governors on Tuesday. Seattle would begin play in either 2020 or 2021.
”Hockey needs to be and wants to be in those really fast-paced cities that are growing and setting the mark,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said. ”Because if we do well here, it’ll raise all the boats for all the teams.”
Vegas already raised the bar for Seattle, which will pay an expansion fee of $650 million – a 30 percent increase over the $500 million that cleared the way for Vegas to begin play last season and far beyond the $45 million the San Jose Sharks paid to enter the league in 1991 to begin a new era of expansion.
As soon as the NHL went to 31, getting to 32 was inevitable. As balanced as it might seem, it’s not the end.
”Not sure there is any magic about 32,” deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly said. ”Expansion is appropriate when a convincing case can be made that it will be beneficial and add value to the league as a whole.”
While Daly was reluctant to address what might be next with the Seattle vote pending, Houston, Quebec City and Toronto have all been touted as possible new homes for an NHL team. Communications company Quebecor applied for an expansion team for Quebec City at the same time as Las Vegas. Billionaire businessman and new Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has already met with Commissioner Gary Bettman.
”Houston’s a big city,” Fehr said. ”It’s got a long history with professional sports in North America. You would like to think that sooner or later the NHL will have a team there. When and under what circumstances I’m not going to try and predict.”
Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economic professor who has written extensively on sports and business, said professional leagues operate much differently from other entities when demand increases. Instead of making more of a product, like a sneaker or beer company might, leagues and teams raise ticket prices or seek new arenas.
Expansion, of course, is another way to feed the beast and Zimbalist said a league could get to 40 teams if it is popular enough and the revenue is spread around correctly.
Any dream of a 40-team NHL would almost certainly involve European expansion, which Bettman said no one has come up with a viable plan for yet. Amid speculation about basing a single NFL team in London, the NHL would likely need to put a full division in Europe to make any sense. And even that has its obstacles, with New Jersey Devils captain Andy Greene pointing to the drastic time changes and coach John Hynes unsure about the long-distance travel as part of an 82-game season.
”When you look at the NHL schedule without going to Europe, it’s a monster,” said Hynes, whose team ended training camp in Switzerland, played an exhibition game there and opened the season in Sweden. ”Then you add in European travel and time changes and NHLPA days off for recovery time and it takes its toll.”
For now, the NHL will continue to play games in Europe, explore China and increase its regular season to 1,312 games – once Seattle joins the fray.