Seattle NHL team
|Seattle NHL team|
|Home arena||New Arena at Seattle Center|
|Owner(s)||Seattle Hockey Partners (David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tod Leiweke)|
|General manager||Ron Francis|
|Minor league affiliates||Palm Springs (AHL)|
The Seattle NHL team is a professional ice hockey expansion team that will be based in Seattle, Washington and will begin play in the 2021–22 National Hockey League (NHL) season. The team will compete in the NHL as a member club of the league's Western Conference Pacific Division. The team is owned by Seattle Hockey Partners and will play their home games at the New Arena at Seattle Center.
On December 4, 2018, the NHL approved a proposal by Seattle Hockey Partners—an ownership group led by David Bonderman, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Tod Leiweke—to grant an expansion franchise to the city of Seattle, Washington.
It will be the first professional hockey team to play in Seattle since the Seattle Totems of the Western Hockey League played their last game in 1975. The team will play at a redeveloped version of Seattle's KeyArena, which had previously been optimized for basketball to suit the Seattle SuperSonics.
History of hockey in Seattle
Seattle has a long ice hockey history, dating back to the formation of the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in 1915. The 1917 Metropolitans were the first American-based team to win the Stanley Cup, but folded in 1924, while the Seattle Totems played in the minor Western Hockey League (WHL) from 1944 until the WHL's dissolution in 1975. On June 12, 1974, the NHL announced that a Seattle group headed by Vince Abbey of the Totems had been awarded an expansion team to begin play in the 1976–77 season along with a team in Denver. The team, which according to season ticket promotions would have kept the WHL name of Totems, never came to fruition because of the original WHL's instability (the WHL was shut down the day the potential NHL team was announced), the inability of Abbey to gather the necessary funding and meet deadlines, and the poor performances on the ice and at the box office of 1974 expansion teams the Washington Capitals and the Kansas City Scouts. Abbey later came up short in bid to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins and move the team to Seattle when they were sold in a bankruptcy auction for $4.4 million in June 1975.
A second attempt at an NHL expansion team in Seattle by a local group was made in 1990, but it failed again over the financial terms the NHL demanded. Sonics owner Barry Ackerley committed to submitting an expansion application to the NHL by a September 15, 1990 deadline as part of a proposed new arena deal. His son Bill would head the expansion effort, while a competing group led by Microsoft executive Chris Larson and former Seattle Totems player then coach Bill MacFarland was preparing their own application. With the Ackerley application already submitted, the two groups would merge with Larson and MacFarland being primary points of contact with the NHL. Then owner of the Seattle Thunderbirds, Bill Yuill, also joined the group. Larson and MacFarland, along with Barry Ackerley and Bill Lear, Ackerley's financial advisor, were set to make a presentation to the NHL's Board of Governors on December 5, 1990. At the meeting, Ackerley and Lear asked to meet with the board first, promptly withdrew their application, and left. Larson and MacFarland were stunned to learn of the development but were unable to pursue any recourse as their names were never on the submitted application. Thought to play a factor in Ackerley's decision were the significant demands by the NHL for an expansion team: a $50 million expansion fee that was more than any NHL club was valued at the time; a $5 million down payment that would be forfeited if 10,000 season tickets weren't sold in the first year—the Sonics had never sold more than 9,000 season tickets; season tickets needed to produce at least $9 million annually, which would've made the tickets the second most expensive for a team in the area at the time; a 20-year lease with a "substantial" share of arena revenues from concessions, parking, and ad signage; priority status for postseason arena dates; and a secured $5 million line of credit in case the league had to take over ownership of the team at any point. Ackerley would not sacrifice Sonics revenues for a hockey team in which he would be a minority investor. As a result of these factors, their bid was rejected.
Later talks about a NHL team for Seattle were derailed by KeyArena. While originally built with an acceptable ice hockey configuration that was used by the WHL Totems, the largest arena in the Seattle area was considered problematic for NHL hockey from the mid 1990s on due to 1995 renovations that were tailored to the arena's major tenant at the time, the NBA's Seattle SuperSonics. Notably, the sight lines for ice hockey left much to be desired. The scoreboard was significantly off-center in the arena's ice hockey configuration, and so many lower-bowl seats were obstructed that half the lower bowl had to be curtained off for ice hockey. This was a major factor in the major junior Seattle Thunderbirds leaving for their own building in Kent in 2009. In 2012, League deputy commissioner Bill Daly stated that KeyArena would be "a difficult arena for hockey" due to the large number of obstructed-view seats. All NHL exhibition games held in Seattle after the renovation were instead hosted at the Tacoma Dome 30 miles south of Seattle due to the issues KeyArena presented with its altered ice hockey configuration.
Expansion and relocation proposals often came with a new arena proposal especially after the departure of the SuperSonics in 2008 to Oklahoma City. From 2012 on as the NHL's interest in Seattle as a market rose, the city was positioned as a locale for expansion or a relocating team pending a viable arena. Multiple reports suggested Chicago Wolves owner and businessman Don Levin had expressed interest in building a new arena in nearby Bellevue that could host an NHL team. On February 16, 2012, a plan was announced to build a new arena in Seattle's SoDo district, just south of Safeco Field. An investment group, headed by hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen, proposed the arena seeking a return of the Sonics and was interested in possibly having an NHL team as well. When Greg Jamison was unable to meet a deadline to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes on January 31, 2013, speculation began that the team would be relocated to Seattle. On June 16, 2013, it was confirmed that the Phoenix Coyotes would be moving to Seattle if an arena deal between the team and the City of Glendale was not reached. Ray Bartozek and Anthony Lanza would purchase the franchise for $220 million and immediately begin operations in Seattle for the following season. However, on July 3, 2013, the Glendale City Council narrowly voted 4–3 to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in Glendale. A 2013 study by Nate Silver concluded that Seattle had the largest number of avid ice hockey fans of any U.S. media market that did not have an NHL team.
The Puget Sound region's highest level of ice hockey participate in the Canadian major junior leagues: the Seattle Thunderbirds, based 20 miles (32 km) south of Seattle in Kent, and Everett Silvertips, 25 miles (40 km) north of Seattle in Everett, both play in the current incarnation of the WHL.
Establishment of the team
On December 4, 2017, the Seattle City Council voted 7–1 to approve a memorandum of understanding between the city of Seattle and the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, co-founded by Tim Leiweke, for renovations of KeyArena. Renovations for the arena were proposed to begin in 2018 and expected to be fully completed in 2020. The current KeyArena roof will remain in place as it is considered a landmark. The rest of the building will see a complete renovation with land being dug down and out. While the renovations are intended for acquiring an NHL franchise, acquiring a new SuperSonics basketball team were also within the design of the approval. On December 7, the NHL's board of governors agreed to consider an expansion application from Seattle, with an expansion fee set at $650 million. The Seattle ownership group was represented by David Bonderman and Jerry Bruckheimer, who conducted a preliminary season ticket drive to gauge interest in Seattle.
On February 13, 2018, the Oak View Group officially filed an application with the NHL for an expansion team and paid a $10 million application fee. At the time, the earliest a Seattle NHL expansion team could have begun playing was the 2020–21 season pending the completion of arena renovations.
On March 1, 2018, a ticket drive began to gauge interests in season ticket deposits. Oak View reported that their initial goal of 10,000 deposits was surpassed in 12 minutes, and that they received 25,000 deposits in 75 minutes. On April 11, 2018, Tod Leiweke was named CEO of Seattle's NHL expansion team. On June 18, 2018, Dave Tippett was named as a senior advisor. Another step towards an expansion team was taken on October 2, 2018, when the NHL Executive Committee unanimously agreed to recommend the expansion bid to a vote of the Board of Governors in December.
The NHL Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve Seattle's expansion team on December 4, 2018. Seattle will begin play in the 2021–22 season as a member of the Pacific Division in the Western Conference; therefore the Arizona Coyotes will shift from the Pacific Division to the Central Division to balance out the four divisions at eight teams each. An expansion draft will be held in a similar manner to a previous expansion draft held in 2017 for the Vegas Golden Knights, who will be exempt from it. In May 2019, the team launched an interactive "fan portal" where fans can weigh in on the team name and uniform colors, answer poll questions, get information about ticket pricing and seating, and view a timeline of past and future key events involving the club and a section that spotlights some of the season-ticket depositors.
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