NHL in Seattle?
A new sports team may be coming to Seattle, but it may not be what you think.
Since the unceremonious departure of the Sonics in 2008, the Seattle area has been without an NBA franchise. In 2013, the Sacramento Kings came as close as possible to moving to Seattle, without actually moving. The NBA franchise relocation committee, whose head at the time was the same owner that moved the Sonics, cancelled the deal to relocate the team, despite developer Chris Hansen and former Microsoft Executive Steve Ballmer’s ownership deal already set in stone.
Hansen was denied again last year when the Seattle City Council denied Hansen’s new arena proposal in Sodo, one that would replace the aging KeyArena. However, Hansen is not giving up the fight. He has recently said that the arena will be built without public money, a rarity in sports. And now, an NHL team is looking for a new home.
The National Hockey League has never had a team in the PNW, but the sport is still historic in Seattle. Before the NHL formed in 1926, the first American team to win the Stanley Cup, the crowning achievement in Hockey, was the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917.
Recently, a study found that the Seattle area is home to the largest hockey fan base without a team in their area. Even more promising for the future of hockey in Seattle is there are two teams looking for homes in the near future.
The Arizona Coyotes have had a tumultuous time in Arizona. They were founded as the Winnipeg Jets in 1972, then moved to the more-populous Phoenix in 1996. They were a successful franchise for many years, but in 2008 their owner declared bankruptcy and the NHL took possession of the team. Over the next five years, bid after bid from various buyers were denied, and finally five years later, a group of investors bought the franchise for $225 million dollars.
Recently, the Coyotes have been exploring Portland and Seattle arenas, as trust between the Coyotes management and the city of Glendale is eroding quickly. Their problems arose in 2015. Glendale unexpectedly terminated the arena-management contract between the team and the city to hire an alternate management company for the arena. The attendance for Coyote’s games has been subpar, no better than third-worst in the league over the last ten years. This added onto the financial issues that the stadium has created in Glendale, where the arena is still being paid for by taxpayers, despite being 13 years old.
What has sparked the new explorations of Pacific Northwest cities is the termination of a deal between the City of Tempe, Arizona State University and the Coyotes, to build a state-of-the-art hockey center for ASU and the NHL.
The Coyotes president, Anthony LeBlanc, stated in a tweet, that the Glendale Star report was “completely false” and that no one had toured the two arenas, KeyArena in Seattle and the Moda Center in Portland. But the fact still stands that the Coyotes lease expires with Glendale at the end of the 2017-18 season, and nobody’s happy in Arizona.
The other option for the NHL would be an expansion franchise. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear that expansion is something he wants for his league, and he has followed through on his promises. The Vegas Golden Knights will be an NHL franchise beginning next year, but that leaves the NHL in an awkward scheduling spot, with 31 franchises. Quebec City, Canada has filed for a new franchise, but the weak Canadian Dollar is making it tough to complete a deal between the NHL and Quebec City. That leaves the door wide open for Seattle to get an expansion NHL team if the Quebec City plans fall through.
Also, adding a team in Quebec would throw off the geographic balance of the league. Including the new Las Vegas team, there will be 15 teams in the western conference and 16 in the eastern conference. Adding Quebec City, there would be 17 in the east and 15 in the west, which is unacceptable, or they would have to move the Detroit Red Wings to the western conference, which is something that the NHL just realigned to avoid. Adding a Seattle team would make a ton of logistical sense, and hopefully for the many hockey fans in the PNW, there will be a team here in the near future.