NHL Expansion for the Emerald City?

Conor Scanlon, Sports Writer

As the Vegas Golden Knights dropped the puck for the first time in the sparkling new T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday, hopeful National Hockey League fans in Seattle saw their dream of expansion actualized in a different city. After losing the SuperSonics to relocation in 2008, investors have made a strong push to bring a third “big four” sports franchise to the Emerald City. In mid September, Seattle city officials and the Oak View Group developers announced a $600 million plan to renovate KeyArena in downtown Seattle. While this is a major first step in acquiring an NHL franchise, Seattle is still many years away from landing a team.

“We’re going to get you a team… Mark it right here. I promise you… we’re going to get you at least one team,” said Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke this summer.

The Group is comprised of several motivated, wealthy individuals including producer, Jerry Bruckheimer and Boston Celtics minority owner, David Bonderma. Combined, these men have over a billion dollars in assets and are willing to personally finance the majority of the arena project.

Leiweke’s goal is clear: “If the NHL so chooses to expand, we will be all over them. If there is a team that they choose to move, we will be all over them.”

Future expansion in the NHL is inevitable. With 31 teams in the League right now, in terms of playoff formatting and scheduling its logical to expand in the near future. Seattle has a long history with hockey. The Metropolitans played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915 to 1924; a league that eventually merged into the NHL. The Metropolitans were the first American team to win the fabled Stanley Cup. In terms of expansion, however, there are cities with more storied pasts.

According to a player poll conducted by “USA Today” last month, 21 of 31 “high-profile” NHL players chose Quebec City, Canada as the best location for a new NHL franchise. Quebec City was formerly home to the Quebec Nordiques prior to their relocation in 1995. While Seattle boasts nearly 200,000 more residents than Quebec City, the Canadian city has a sparkling new indoor arena that was completed in 2015. Additionally, as the majority of NHL players are Canadian, many of them would prefer to play in a Canadian market with guaranteed fan interest than a potentially oversaturated U.S. market like Seattle.

Seattle may eventually end up with a professional hockey team. According to a recent radio interview with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, despite the city’s recent arena progress, the acquisition will not happen in the near future. Bettman stated, “We’re [the NHL] not in an expansion process.” He also made it clear than an arena must be built before they even consider Seattle as a destination.

“You need to believe that a building is going to come out of the ground,” Bettman told hosts Bob McCown and Damien Cox. “And if not, bad things will happen. This is really jumping ahead because we would have to be in a place where we say ‘OK we want to commit to a franchise in Seattle. Here’s what has to happen, here are the terms of engagement … we’re nowhere near that.”

Until Seattle’s proposed arena is built and operating, the city has no chance of acquiring an NHL team. From start to finish, this process will take at least another ten years. Until then, deprived hockey fans in Washington state can continue to tune into Vancouver Canucks broadcasts or keep track of one of the state’s three minor league teams.