Some believe the NHL is a niche sport, popular in some places, basically ignored in others. And over the years, the league has learned hard lessons, twice failing in Atlanta, moving from markets such as Kansas City, Hartford and Quebec City.
That doesn’t mean the league hasn’t been willing to experiment by planting itself in new cities and regions.
And on Tuesday it committed itself again to the Pacific Northwest, announcing its 32nd franchise will located in Seattle, just a wrist shot from Vancouver.
All it will cost their ownership is an entry fee of $650 million, a substantial increase from what it cost the Vegas Golden Knights ($500,000) to move in last season.
“When you include the cost of reimagining and building Seattle Center Arena, this is a transaction with a value of approximately $1.4 billion,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “Which shows incredible commitment by everyone involved — commitment not just to the NHL but also to the city of Seattle.”
Approved unanimously by its board of governors, the team will debut for the 2021-22 season and play in the Pacific Division. To accommodate that, the Arizona Coyotes will be move to the Central Division.
Seattle’s ownership group wanted to begin playing in 2020. But the league discouraged it due to questions about the pace and cost of renovating KeyArena into Seattle Center Arena, where the team will play.
The still-nameless franchise gives Seattle pro teams in MLB (the Mariners), NFL (the Seahawks) and the WNBA (the Storm). It’s NBA team, the SuperSonics, moved to Oklahoma City a decade ago.
We doubt you remember this, but there was a pro hockey team in Seattle, the Metropolitans, in the early 20th century. It played in what was then the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and won the 1917 Stanley Cup before folding in 1924.
The business side of the new franchise is already humming along. It began selling season-tickets in March and reportedly cashed in 32,000 deposits in first 31 hours – a Bruce Springsteen, Hamilton performance.
CEO Tod Leiweke said there will be no rush concerning a nickname. We wouldn’t suggest Pilots. MLB tried that in 1969 and one year later the team was moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. No bad karma allowed.
The hometown newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, decided to have some fun on-line on Tuesday by suggesting a few names. The Metropolitans, Totems, Thunderbirds, Steelheads, Sockeye, Rainiers, Cascade and Freeze were tossed out.
USA Today recounted a story Detroithockey.net ran earlier this season saying a lawyer representing the Seattle team had registered 38 domains. Among them: Cougars, Eagles, Emeralds, Evergreens, Firebirds, Kraken, Rainiers, Renegades, Sea Lions, Seals, Sockeyes, Totems and Whalers.
“We’re going to take our time,” Leiweke said. ” There’s a group of owners involved. We’re going to listen to our fans and we’re going to do it right and we’re not going to have a time pressure, but it’s something we’re working on each and every day.”
The way things are shaping up, Seattle is going to have the same opportunity to build its first team as Vegas did. More experience was made available by limiting the number of players each of the 30 existing teams could protect. Seattle will get one player from every team except Vegas. The other teams can protect either seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie or eight skaters total and one goalie.
Of course, Vegas ended up in the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Washington Capitals.
Seattle’s good fortune is bad luck for Houston and Quebec City, who have nice sparkling new arenas and have been begging the NHL for a team. Maybe one or both could land a relocated team someday.