NHL Seattle's Work Already Underway After League's Approval
Work is already underway for Seattle's NHL expansion team, and the effort can "begin in earnest now" that the league's BOG has officially awarded the city a franchise, according to Stephen Whyno of the AP. Groundbreaking on a "total overhaul of KeyArena" begins today, and Seattle’s front office will "spend the rest of this season plotting the course for an organization that has a tough act to follow" after the Golden Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. NHL Seattle Senior Advisor Dave Tippett will "likely hire some scouts this summer and move forward on the GM search." NHL Seattle Majority Owner David Bonderman said that the "immediate focus is on getting arena renovations and three-rink practice facility construction completed." NHL Seattle President & CEO Tod Leiweke "expects the 17,000-seat downtown arena to open" in March or April '21 and "host the expansion draft" (AP, 12/5). Leiweke said that the group is going to "get working on a team name and likely a hockey operations search in the nearer term." Regarding ticket sales, Leiweke said, “We’re going to go into the laboratory beginning tomorrow and begin to work this through" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/5). The GLOBE & MAIL's Joshua Clipperton notes no announcement was made "regarding what the new team will be called." However, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman seemed to "pour water on the Metropolitans being in the running because the league already has a division with that name" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/5).
FOLLOW IN THEIR STEPS? In Seattle, Larry Stone writes it is "unrealistic" to expect the sort of "fairy-tale debut" that the Golden Knights had last season. But the new Seattle team should "push hard to forge the same sort of connection with its fan base." The "extraordinary response to season-ticket sales in Seattle ... is a sign of potential hockey mania." The sports marketplace in Seattle is "crowded and competitive, but the new hockey team will stand out initially for novelty alone." After that, it is "up to the sport and the franchise to sell itself" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/5). NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said team execs are "going to have to figure out a way to make Seattle a hockey town," because it "never really has been." He noted there "hasn't been a human cry for a hockey team until the last eight to 10 months." Ratto said of the more than 30,000 ticket deposits so far, "It's promising to start, but it's about how you sustain it, and that's the trick, because most expansion teams do well in their first year and after a couple years of losing, people start to lose interest. Seattle, unlike Vegas, has a lot of other sports options" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 12/4).
TAKE YOUR TIME: SPORTSNET.ca's Chris Johnston noted the Seattle ownership group "badly wanted" a '20 start date after "collecting more than 32,000 season-ticket deposits in one day." They "hoped to reward that article of faith from fans as quickly as possible." But the "deeper they got into discussions with league officials the more they came around to the value of having another year to get ready." It remains to be seen how the extra time will "affect the construction of the hockey operations department" (SPORTSNET.ca, 12/4). Bonderman said though his group had pushed for an October '20 launch date, they "didn’t fight the league’s request to hold it back 12 months." Bonderman: "It became clear dealing with contractors, dealing with the city, dealing with the league, that because of the tightness of it, it probably wasn’t a great idea to have to rely on it." He added, "The certainty over the construction timeline -- or the lack of certainty -- led us to believe that making the start of the ’20-21 season would be speculative at best and unlikely at worst. And we all agreed that it was better to get the building done right" (SEATTLE TIMES, 12/5).
USING LEVERAGE: NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that a potential work stoppage in '20 was "not the primary concern" for the '21 start date. Daly: "If we had adequate assurances that the building would be done on time and the team could be launched correctly, I think we would have gone forward with 2020" (TSN.ca, 12/4). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote Bettman is a "very, very smart man." The "last thing he would want" is the NHLPA going into '20 knowing that the league will be "debuting a new team." That would give the NHLPA an "enormous amount of leverage should it choose to trigger the opt-out clause in the collective bargaining agreement" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/4).